Records for Ron

An interview with Ron Stevens - January 2008

Ron Stevens

Long standing Olympic Club member Ron Stevens began running in 1954, with more than half a century of running under his belt Ron's motivation, competitiveness, team spirit and comaraderie of the sport have never wavered. Most recently Ron has broken the New Zealand record for M75 in both the 5,000m (21:50:57) and 10,000m (44:11:76), track events.

In an interview via email earlier this year Ron kindly gives Olympic Harriers (OHC) an insight into the secrets of his continuing and successful running career.

OHC: I believe your running career spans over half a century, that's very impressive. You certainly would not be an advocate for those that have claimed running is bad for your health. What is the secret to your long and continuing running career?

RS: I've been lucky with health but feel that running hard consistently has maintained it. My early running was spent chasing the Macdonald twins, Jim and John, Brian Curle and George Wilson - all Olympic men, who were tops in Canterbury for the first fifteen years or so of my running career. Most important, however, was having the company of Neville Reid as a training partner for the last forty years. Without his encouragement I'd have been a chocolate-bloated ex-athlete years ago. I hope to continue as long as I enjoy running and hope to remain fairly competitive in the various age-groups for a while yet.

OHC: You obviously have a great passion for running. What motivates you to keep running year after year?

RS: Mainly the company of very good friends. Neville, I've mentioned, and more recently I've also spent many happy kilometres running with Peter Coughlan, Murray Smith, Margaret Flanagan and Kay Bulbrook. I've also enjoyed a lot of support from members of our own and other clubs and this camaraderie of the sport would be hard to leave.

OHC: Compared to your younger years how have you altered your training programme to compensate for the aging process, what do you have more focus on? Speed, mileage flexibility or strength?

RS: I haven't wanted to alter it at all. If only I could do what I did in the past! Now I find it hard to get out the gate but once I'm running I still want to push things along and still find that I get faster as the distance increases. I go to a yoga class which certainly helps flexibility, have just started ballroom and Latin dancing (and have found my toes again) and imagine myself doing more mileage and some more weight work. It doesn't usually happen but I'm still hoping. Speed seems to vanish first and I hope to focus on that on the track this year. Oh for the days when a run from Barrington Park to the Kiwi and back were followed by 12 x 400 at about 64 second pace.

OHC: You appear to still be highly competitive. What ignites and keeps alive that competitive sprit and drive?

RS: I have always trained fairly rapidly which encourages competition with your own performances. In races, it is a poor compliment to let anyone beat you and so I still try to finish ahead of anyone close. It's not savage, it's not about pride - it's just what competition is about and doing your best in each race keeps you interested. Not close this time? I'll get him (or her) next time! Increasingly unrealistic, but it's fun trying. Having close competition in the age-group (Sid Pavett !) also helps.

OHC: From the first days of your running till now there have been a lot of changes in such things as running surfaces, design of shoes and clothing, training equipment, scientific knowledge, running programmes and lifestyles. How do you feel these changes have affected the runner's ability to perform?

RS: Negatively, there has also been a watering down of events and, locally, of athlete's expectations. Our longest race is now 10k. The Holloway Memorial used to be about 20k cross-country, it is now half that, the Kaiapoi to Christchurch, also about 20k has gone and so has the 20 miles Christchurch to Rangiora and St Martins 15 mile. Courses used to include hills, fences, plough and mud - unusual now - we're getting soft. Few runners now look at world ranking performances. Eddie Grey, Brian Rose and John Walker have all placed third in the World Cross-Country - which New Zealander even aspires to that now? The most positive help has been in shoe development - almost anything now beats the old gym shoes. Lifestyle? We are all too busy but 6:00 a.m. is still relatively untouched! (Ask Brenda)

OHC: You have competed in an incomprehensible number of races and events to date and hold numerous championship and age group titles as well as race and lap records. What would be your most memorable, unforgettable and or most satisfying performances?

RS: I'd have to toss between setting records of 60min 30sec for the Kaiapoi - Christchurch (12 miles), 55:20 for the Temuka - Timaru (10.8 miles) and the 15 miles track New Zealand record in 77 min 40 something (all around 1961). Most pleasing wins would have been the Canterbury Cross-Country Champs in 1960 (61?) and the Jane Paterson ahead of the reigning N.Z. Champion. All quite satisfying at the time.

OHC: Briefly, what are your thoughts on the future of Athletics in New Zealand?

RS: We need a few 'heroes' performing locally to raise our expectations otherwise our standards will continue to decline. If we had the publicity at local level accorded the All Blacks some of our talented kids would continue competing and the vast number of 'fun runners' might be inspired into regular competition. Ultimately professionalism, and the cash required to support a few, will kill the sport as we know it.

OHC: The wealth of knowledge and experience you have gained over the years, you have willingly shared as coach and mentor to many runners of all abilities. What advice would you give to a previously sedentary person considering donning shorts and running shoes and heading for the park?

RS: Wear good shoes. Start easily. Have one day a week off. Run with a buddy - more fun and helps, especially on wet days. Build mileage gradually, run fast enough to be rythmical - plodding deadens enthusiasm and is hard on the legs. Vary speed and courses. Ask for help.

OHC: What are the goals and aspirations for Ron Stevens, 'Runner' for the future ahead?

RS: I'd like to be able to continue running with friends to enjoy the spirit we have in Olympic and to keep those in my age-group honest. I'd like to help others to achieve their ambitions in the sport. I'll aim for a few reasonable track times (the World 1500 metre time for a 100 year-old doesn't appear too tough from this distance) and hope to be fit enough to make a few more Olympic teams in cross-country and road races.

OHC: Thank you Ron. A big congratulations on your recent 5,000m and 10,000 records. We all look forward to following your success over the coming year.