Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Mike Gratton Looks Back (April 2013)

I talked to Mike Gratton (Born 27/11/54) at the London Marathon Exhibition on the 20th of April, 2013, where he had his '2:09 Stand', for his successful '2.09 events Travel Company'. (Incidentally my son Andrew was the first British runner in the Budapest half marathon in 2009, when Andrew, my wife Joanna and I went there for a '2:09' events holiday' which we really enjoyed.)
   Mike Gratton won the London Marathon in his fastest ever time of 2:9:43 in 1983 (I ran my third of 19 consecutive one's that year). The day Mike won in 1983 22 United Kingdom runners ran inside 2:16 and in 2013 the fastest UK runner did 2:16:05!
   The last decade when England had more than one marathon runner winning the London event was in the 1980's with Hugh Jones, Mike Gratton, Charlie Spedding and Steve Jones.
   It could be interesting to now read an Unprepared 'Off the cuff' interview I did with the charming man Mike Gratton.
   When did you first start running initially
   "I was in a boarding school in Germany and at the school sports I did the 800m and won it without any training so, they put me in the British Forces Germany Schools 800m and I ran 2:12 and finished second in that and then, my Dad was stationed back at Folkestone in the UK. He was a soldier but not a sportsman at all.'.
When I got back to the UK I was connected to the local running club and I showed some promise at running.
Then through school I got into the District Schools, then the Kent Schools cross-country and at the age of 13 made the County cross-country team. I went to the English Schools and finished 144th as an intermediate and it all went on from there. The following Summer I finished 7th in the English Schools 1500.'
   Was that the turning point
'I think making the County cross-country team I realised then, that I was not going to be a footballer or anything else, although I enjoyed playing football at school, it was quite clear that with a bit of training I could make progress in the running side. That  Summer, I concentrated on running but I was only training three times a week at Folkestone but there was a lot of interval training so, when I got to the 1500 I improved my time from 4:40 down to 4:7 all in one summer season. From an intermediate onwards I was basically a runner.'
    What performances made you feel you could get somewhere in the sport
'I think the English Schools. I was three times a finalist at 1500 then, in my last senior year, I moved up to 5000 and won the 5000. It was my first English schools title, then I went on to College and met up with a guy called Bob Heron, who was a marathon runner and that turned me onto the road. We were doing 20 mile runs when I was 19 or so then, suddenly I was doing 10 mile races. I gradually moved towards the marathon, as you do.
I ran my first marathon in Paris in 1979 and then went on to win the Poly that same year and then chipped away at times.'
   The late, Cliff Temple was your coach. (Coach and Sunday Times Athletics Correspondent). Did he have a baring on your running?
   "Not initially . He was a member of Folkestone athletics club and we were just running partners. He was not  coaching me until quite late on. I ran third in the AAA's Championships in Rugby in 1981 and ran 2:16. He believed I could possibly get down to 2:12 and that was when we started talking about training and things like that. I ALWAYS WRITE MY OWN TRAINING OUT but we discussed it. Cliff was a kind of guiding light to me to get to 2:12 then ultimately to the 2:9 It was just the little bit of direction I needed to get to the 2:9 that I eventually did. '
   You went up to the marathon, using your speed at lower distances, to actually help your marathon pace.
   "I always had natural speed. I would regularly do the 400 in the relay in the Southern League and things like that and run 50-51 seconds on a relay leg so, I had good leg speed but what I was never able to do was to translate that into a really good 5 or 10k. For some reason I could stand out to perform against anybody over the last 200 of a marathon but was unable to maintain that high tempo that you need for a 28 minute 10k. I was kind of fast at 400/800 and really good endurance at the marathon but, in the middle at 5 or 10k I was never really ever considered 'World Class'
   Your best half marathons?
My best half marathon was' 62 something' in Oslo, a couple of years after I won London.'
   What are your memories of the biggest marathons you have done
   'I think London '82' was the one I enjoyed the most. I had done 2:16 and was third in the AAA's Championships in race with about 70 people in it then, I finished third in London in 1982 (1 Hugh Jones 2:09:24; 2 Oyvind Dahl (Norway) 2:12: 21; 3 Mike Gratton 2:12:30; 4 Jeff Wells (USA) 2:13:43) -- A huge leap forward . Hugh Jones won it miles ahead. I had a battle with Oyvind Dahl for second and third. The first time I realised that it could be very competitive at the marathon at the highest level. I was then chosen for the Commonwealth Games and got a bronze in 2:12 again. - 1 Rob De Castella (Australia)2:09:18; 2 Juma Ikangaa (Tanzania) 2:9:30; 3 Mike Gratton 2:12:06). 'It was those two performances in 1982 that made me really believe I could run 2:10 in '83''
   The following year you did not make the Olympic marathon, even though you had run 2:9- in the London in 1983 which must have still been in the selection time?
"I got injured in the winter of 84 and Charlie Spedding won London so he was chosen for the Olympics. Hugh Jones had finished fifth in the World Championships in 1983 so, they got selected and it left one place and Geoff Smith had run 2:9 in New York for second and he had also won the Boston marathon. He was selected over me because of those two performances. I ran 2:9 but did not get selected for the UK!
'It is extraordinary now when you think about it!.'
   The London Marathon of  1983 (It was wet and quite cold)- 1 Mike Gratton 2:09:43; 2 Gerry Helme 2:10:12; 3 Henrik Jorgensen (Den) 2:10:47; 4 Kebede Balcha (Ethiopia) 2:11:32; 5 Jim Dingwall 2:11:44; 6 Ricardo Orrega (Spain) 2:11:51; 7 Martin McCarthy 2:11:54; 8 Emiel Puittemans (Belgium-2nd in the Olympic 10,000 of 1972) 2:12:27.
                            Do you have memories of that London Marathon race
           "I remember almost everything about it. Where I was and my thought process. They were running very, very fast at the start. Too fast, so I stayed back and I was about a minute down at half way but I could still see them in the distance. I caught up with Gerry Helme, who eventually finished second and the pair of us latched together and caught up with the leaders at about 16 miles. When we got there people were falling off the back of the group. We immediately went to the front ourselves, because we had the momentum.After catching the group up, it left just myself and Gerry Helme at 22 miles on our own. Gerry started to slow and I just pulled away. The last 4 miles was almost like 'Running on Terror'  because there is still a long way to go and you are trying to maintain that 5 minute mile rhythm and just looking back every now and again to make sure Gerry was going further back. Once it got to Birdcage Walk it was almost at the finishing on Westminster Bridge then, that was it. I could almost walk to the finish. It is quite nerve racking when you go early and you have to hold on, not really knowing what is going on behind you."
   You were third to Rob De Castella in he Commonwealth in Brisbane in 1982. He was a very good steady runner
"He ended up doing 2:7 in Boston. He was an exceptional runner. Ikanga was second and he went on to run  2:8 and win New York. That Commonwealth Games had John Graham, who had won Rotterdam in 2:9  was just behind me and the person who won the Commonwealth Games before (Gidmis Shaanga-Edmonton 1978) was just behind me. When you look at the result of that 1982 Commonwealth Games it was a very 'Classy' race.
'That was what made me really believe I could go on and run 2:10 and win London the following year..
De Castella was doing Rotterdam. Ikanga was supposed to be doing London till too late, basically he missed the race but he did not actually arrive. Alberto Salazar was the other person who could possibly have come to London but he went to Rotterdam as well. London had some good runners but in Rotterdam there was Salazar and De Castella. Also, in fact, Carlos Lopez ran Rotterdam, although he had not run a marathon before that..That race was the day before the London. I knew the very best in the Would be doing Rotterdam so it left it wide open in London."
   When I talk about certain people being the best but not competing (In things like he Olympic Games), my wife always  says it is who is there on the day not who is not.!  
  'Absolutely!. You can still win the race. I think even if they had run London I was in shape to run the low  2:9's and I ran 2:9:43.but I got away at  22 miles. I did not have to race at the finish. If I had to with Salazar or De Castella with me at that point, I pretty much know I would have been competitive with them".
  Of the other races would you mark any out
"Not that compares to 3rd in the Commonwealth and 1st and 3rd in London, winning the English Schools 5000m. Those are the kind of things that stand out. There are lots of other races I have enjoyed. Places like Manila was an interesting place but not races that stand our because they are just run of the mill races.'.
'Had I gone to New York and run well and won New York. I never ran well in New York and I did not run very well in Chicago so, London and the Commonwealth Games are the two outstanding races. The others were good performances. 2:13's , 2:14's  but never quite got back to that London win again."
 These days it is difficult to operate with all these Kenyans and Ethiopians running  well consistently, . Regarding British runners Ian Stewart or Steve Ovett  on the track, they were able to beat the best Africans in the World at the time. They did not worry who they ran against. Now they seem to back off, paricularly in marathon running, where hey are unable to bridge that gap?
    "I think it is different. When I was running I did not have 20 Kenyans just running away from me at the start.
I was always in contact with the leaders. Now if you run 2:9, you are not in contact with the leaders.You are running 10 seconds slower per mile than the leaders.. That is a very difficult thing to cope with- Going away from you right from the very beginning. If you go with them you end up with a much slower  time. It is very difficult now for people to pace their race. They are running 5 or 6 minutes quicker than I did to win London. Also, you stop believing  in yourself. The Africans are so far ahead. The gap seems almost unbridgeable. When I ran 2:16; I believed I could run  2:12 and 2:10 because the runners who were doing those times were people you raced against regularly. One or two are say running 2:12, now they are doing a 10k with half a dozen Kenyans.Those Kenyans are way ahead.'
   Do you think it is partly the hunger as, with a small amount of money Kenyans can buy a field or live for a Year on the money they can earn in international competition. Ethiopia and Uganda are not rich countries either so the money is more than useful. Also they are at  altitude all the time they really benefit coming down at any time they like to.
     "They genetically have an advantage, there is no doubt about it. The money is very big now at the front end so that is the reason so many Africans are now doing marathons.In my day there was Wakiihuri (1989 London winner in 2:9:03) and a few others there were not a lot of Kenyans doing it. They were all running 5 or 10k on the track.So, the money is part of the reason. The sport has moved on but it does not explain why the British runners are not doing the performances that they did in the '80's' Apart from Scott Overall who ran 2:10 in Berlin. There has been nobody since Jon Brown in the 2:9's so, we are looking at 10 years almost since a British  runner got under 2:10."
 (As the inteviewere/wrriter of this article I would like to make some possible points that people may very well not agree with:- Just an opinion of mine "Maybe:it is also lifestyle as people have so many inerests in the richer countries, and maybe go by car everywhere, and see football as the money spinner to take their mind away from being good athletes. Lots of money only goes to the very top athletes.The media are advertising and selling Big Commercial events-The public then can think If your not at the Olympics etc don't bother sort of thing (The Anniversary Games was an event where people will rush to go just because it is in the Olympic Stadium in 2013, not nececcearly that they are really intersted in the grass rootes of the sport!.) Being a very good runner and not going to the Olympics you are not really considered by the 'General Public that follow general sport'. Unfortunately you are not really respected as a County champion anymore and the top UK cross country race 'The National' does not even get the result published in the National papers these days!. Not so respected by the public as a ' 'Celebrity Jogger' for charity in the London would be, unless of course you actually win the event. However Mike comes out with some very good points)
Mike Gratton:-
 "I just don't think there is enough depth. We had loads of runners running 28/29 minutes for 10k's and they moved up to the marathon. Now we don't have lots of runners doing 28/29- 10'ks so we don't have that base moving up to the marathon anymore. We have got the odd runner Jon Brown, Nerurkar, Paul Evans.
The odd runner who does a 2:8 or a 2:9 but if you look back at the 80's loads at people..., Someone like Tony Milovsorov who ran 2:9:54 (Done coming sixth in the 1989) and nobody even knows who Tony Milovsorov was . Then it was almost the the norm.' ' We had tremendous depth. We knew we had to run hard to beat these people but now you can be the first Britain in maybe 2:12/2:15 (We talked the day before the first UK runner did 2:16 in 2013).
We do need to get people back on the track running 5 or 10k's fast . They don't have to be 13 minutes!."
  Ken Norris a 'Great' runner of the 1950's from Thames Valley Harriers, told me the problem with his club now was they did not do what they did years ago and all run to-gether in training, to bring each other on.
    In the 70's if I went out for some runs at lunch time, from the City and round Southwark Park. There was Dave Bedford, Colin Moxsom, Mike Beevor, John Holliday, Martin Burgess, Malcolm Moody, Mike Robinson, Len Parrott, Ricky Goad (Training friend of Eamonn Martin the last British winner of the London in 1993) and others. We would improve, just by trying to keep with the better runners in that group when running over 5 or 7 mile run
(Even people with more modest times like myself I brought my time down  from 59.54 to 56 36 minutes for 10 miles on the road because of that group running).
Mike Gratton:-   "It was the same with my club Invicta East Kent. We had Nick Brawn who ran 2:11; Merv Brameld 2:13; Andy Girling 2:15. If you were training with these guys all the time It becomes slightly competitive as, all your training is edged up a little bit.'
'Possibly too many people train in isolation now. Clubs have got bigger and I was listening to Tonbridge Wells running club saying they have got 2 to 300 members and are a much bigger club than it was in the 80's  but the standard within the club is much lower. It maybe an asperational thing.'
'There is a place for everybody in the sport but if everybody is aiming at 4 hours or 4 hours 30. You don't have this hierarchy where people are really training to achieve things. '
' To an extent having a 2:45 qualifying time for the AAA's Championship for the marathon means that people are setting their bar at running sub-2:45. People were setting their bar at running Sub-20 in the 1980's so, really what you are doing is limiting peoples expectations.You could say if you want to make  the AAA's Championship start you have got to run 2:20. Then you say; OK I will  train for 2:20 not 2:45.To an extent you have got to kind of get peoples aspirations higher so that they work towards those achievements and not accept something that is only mediocre in World terms.'.'
   'Did your parents support your running'
    'They were supportive but they kept a sort of sensible distance. They would help out when we had track and field meets at Folkestone and things but not the kind of pushy parents at the track side screaming at you.'
        You really seem to enjoy your work with 2:09 travel
    ' I love running so I am wanting to be involved in it. It is my life and something I have been doing since I was 12 so I thoroughly enjoy it. Running was not something I did just because I was quite good at, it was because I really did enjoy it and I still do and still get out and train."

Alastair Aitken

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