On the afternoon of September 5, Peter Snell, the world record holder for the mile, half mile and 800 meters, as well as the half mile and 1,000 yards indoors, got out of his Austin station wagon in a bleak suburb of Auckland to run the five-mile anchor leg for the Owairaka Amateur Athletic and Harrier Club A team in the Calliope and Western Suburbs Clubs Seven-man Round the Harbour Relay. As Snell set off down the sidewalk, dodging three schoolgirls in green jumpers who were out for a jog, his wife, Sally, drove ahead to give him his time for the first mile.
All told, 39 teams were competing in the 37-mile race, including a representative women's team which recorded a faster time than some of the men. The turnout of 273 harriers was unexceptional for New Zealand. Within half an hour of Snell's unheralded victory in the 800 meters at the 1960 Olympic Games, he had replaced Sir Edmund Hillary at the head of the national pantheon, and running became an enduring fad. There are, for instance, groups of joggers, middle-aged men who plod a half hour a day to keep fit. "Sunday morning about 50 of us turn out," says their leader, Colin Kay of Auckland. "We run a bit of flat, a bit of hill. It's very beautiful at 8 a.m. We're free and easy. We keep the pace down to the slowest man. It's all very sociable." One Saturday last August, a Mrs. Millie Sampson, a 31-year-old mother of two who lives in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa, went dancing until 1 a.m. The next day she cooked dinner for 11 visitors. In between, she ran the marathon in 3:19.33, presumably a record. And the same day that Snell was taking part in the relay, one John Young, 21, completed a 10�-day, 430-mile run from Wellington to Auckland and announced, "I am as fit as a trout."
The relay was Snell's first race since July 4, when he had finished third in a seven-and-a-half-mile cross-country race, defeating his compatriots, the world-class distance runners Murray Halberg, Bill Baillie and Barry Magee. Snell has not run a mile since April 11, when he did a tolerable 3:58.5, or the half mile since March 7, when he did 1:48.5. This suits him fine. "Obscurity," he says. "That's what I want." Snell does not mean that he wishes to avoid fame and its responsibilities; it is just that he would prefer that the opposition did not know how well he was running. Now it is spring in New Zealand, but the past winter, which everyone agrees was "really shocking," cold and so wet that moss grew on the sidewalks in the heart of Auckland, served his purpose.
Snell admits he ran poorly early this year. "There were three reasons," he said after lunch the other day. "The first was my adjustment to marriage." "Really!" Sally said. "That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?" Snell said. "I usually end up taking the brunt of everything," Sally said. "Pete's landlady was so good-hearted, she did every mortal thing for him. He had no responsibilities before he got married. Now he has to look after me, the house and the garden." "I was fortunate she more or less adopted me as a son, Mrs. Warren," Snell said of his landlady.
He went on to relate that the second reason was a rift, since healed, between himself and his coach, Arthur Lydiard. Their estrangement was due to Lydiard's resentment of a statement made by Snell in a magazine article last year and it continued well into 1964. "The big advantage of having a coach," Snell said, "apart from his knowledge, is the inspiration he imparts. Arthur makes you feel the tremendous possibilities with in your power. I need someone sympathetic to lean on. I can't withstand the stresses by myself. A wife is no good for this. When Arthur wiped us off, it was necessary to go to someone with my problems. It's a weakness in my makeup. Then the other runners, their families, ostracized us. The whole thing was very childish, but I was concerned about it. It constituted an upset." The third reason, he said, was the excessive number of speeches he had to make for his firm. Rothmans, the cigarette manufacturer.
Snell hit bottom on January 21, when he was badly beaten in a mile by John Davies. "Was I second?" he said. "Third. My time was about 4:05." "His training was very bitsy," Sally explained. "And it was pouring heaven's hard as well." "I never heard you say that, Sally," Snell said. "Say what, Pete?" "Heaven's hard. You never use that expression." "I use it once in a while," she said. "It sounds stupid," Snell said. "It was raining," Sally said. "I don't perform well on a damp track," Snell said, and went on to say that shortly thereafter he came down with gastroenteritis, as well.
Despite these calamities, Snell is the overwhelming favorite in the 1,500 at the Olympics, and in the 800, too, if he chooses to run it, and for sufficient reason. First of all, no one who will be opposing him at Tokyo has ever come within a second of his record times for the mile (3:54.4) or the half (1:45.1). (Snell has never run a 1,500-meter race, but he feels, in essence, that he has triumphed in the half because he has greater stamina than his swifter opponents and, on the other hand, that his success in the mile is due to his superior speed. The 1,500, which is some 120 yards short of the mile, may thus be close to his ideal distance.) Secondly, Snell did not begin training seriously until the week after his 3:58.5 mile. From that date the quantity and quality of his training have surpassed anything he had done previously. In fact, his performances during the dismal winter months have convinced him that he will soon be capable of running the mile in 3:50.
Arthur Lydiard once predicted Snell would do 3:48. "He would've if he hadn't gotten a swelled head and stagnated," Lydiard said recently. "After he broke the world records he went haywire—racing and racing, wearing his condition down, looking jaded. He became confused." Lydiard, a small, freckled, messianic and intractable man, is quite satisfied that he has hit upon the most beneficial way to prepare for the middle-distance events. He has no use for interval training, the system evolved in Scandinavia and followed by Franz Stampfl, who coached Roger Bannister. "They're trying to develop stamina through speed," Lydiard says scathingly. Nor does he believe in the Spartan regime of Percy Cerutty, who was Herb Elliott's coach. "You must exhaust yourself systematically and sensibly," Lydiard says. "Not go ahead and kill yourself. You must train and not strain." Furthermore, he thinks that special diets, calisthenics and weight lifting are either inefficient or unnecessary. "I'm very weak in the arms, you know," Snell says. "I've purposely neglected my upper body. If I swam a couple of laps in the Tepid Baths, my arms would feel like they'd drop off." The Tepid Baths, a vast, steamy place, is Auckland's only heated pool.
Lydiard's training program is divided into three phases: distance running, hill work and track work. Distance running is designed to build up stamina. Lydiard believes he can develop stamina in any athlete. He claims, for instance, that if Henry Carr, who is the fastest man in the world over 220 yards, would put himself in his hands, "he would smash the half-mile and mile records with consummate ease."
Snell began his distance running on April 18. Ten weeks later, when he concluded it, he had run a total of 1,012 miles. If at all feasible, he ran the same mileage each day of the week: 10 miles on Mondays, 15 on Tuesdays, 12 on Wednesdays, 18 on Thursdays, 10 on Fridays, 15 on Saturdays and 22 on Sundays. As he became more fit, Snell was able to maintain an average speed of seven miles per hour over variable terrain. One of Lydiard's bywords is "undulating." "Hills, not mountains!" he will say. "The more hills the better! Undulating! Undulating!" Snell figures he can reckon his pace in a race to within a fifth of a second. "I'm damn near as reliable as a motor car in judging 10 miles," he says. "If I run 70 minutes, I'm within 200 yards of it." Snell can go at a faster rate, of course, but it is a Lydiard dictum that the key to training is controlled speed. "You must always know you can do a little bit better," Lydiard says.