Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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Chat with Dave Clarke (September 2015)

(The tall impressive blond haired runner, an ideal choice for being one of the ‘Great’ cross-country runners for the UK with his extensive time as an international. His brother Peter Clarke was a useful runner for Hercules Wimbledon too)
Just as an addition to my Dave Clarke article, already on the site in 2011, I thought I would have a chat with him ‘Off the Cuff’.
It was when I was at Ben Noad’s first Hercules Wimbledon 5k’s, at the Wimbledon track, on the 19th of August 2015. Dave Clarke being a member of Hercules Wimbledon AC was helping prepare the hot dogs beside the track.
Dave Clarke was the last ‘Hero of mine’ when I was still competing seriously.
As many people know, he was competing at the top level right though the 1980’s and was even good as a junior and youth before that.

Dave you have won the National several times and come second more than once, as well as winning the World Trial which became the selection race as opposed to the ‘National’
However, you just made a comment to me that, for you, the most satisfying thing was to break 4 minutes for the mile (3:56.05 in 1985). Why would you say that?

“I suppose, if you won the ‘National’ a couple of times and, you are still able to improve on the track. Every year you sit down at the end of the year and think ‘How am I going to get better!’ You use the summer to get faster and use the winter to get stronger. If you are strong enough to run 9 miles and, you can run fast over a mile you become a more dangerous track runner, become more dangerous at everything. There is a point for every single month of training you do, is aiming towards making you a more complete athlete. The top athletes in the World have a fast finish so; they have also got to be there to have a fast finish. There is no point in one of these people that can stay with the group for most of the race and be blown apart. From my point of view I look up to anyone who is a sub-four minute miler as an amazing athlete and, to be able to join those sorts of people.
3:56 is nothing compared to what the fast boys are doing now but, it just meant that I had more right to expect to be able to run faster on the track and then faster in winter.”
          When you look back now to the National cross country when you won at Leeds, I can remember you saying to me, that if you looked round you saw all those thousands of people behind and, so many were very good runners, in fact some of the best in the World!
‘They were.’
‘The World was different. People used to break down in tears when they did not make the team for the ‘National’ for their club!  These were from big clubs, Midland clubs like Tipton and Gateshead from the North.
People would be absolutely distraught, if they were not able to get in their top nine team for the club to run. That is because they were dead good athletes but there were so many. There weren’t Sport Halls then!’
‘The sport has changed for the better in many cases but for the top end of athletics, not necessarily for the better.
‘The shame for me is that the London Marathon was set up to raise the standard of British distance running. There are not many people running sub-2:20 anymore from Britain. (Dave Clarke won the Stockholm marathon in 1989 in 2:13.34). Dave continues “I do think they should try and do more to encourage the best British marathon runners ‘Sub-20‘ all together. They should say to them ‘Look we will get you in the race and we will organise pacemakers for you.
‘There are 20 or 30 of you and your job is to get run Under 2.20; 2:19; 2:18. We will make it worth your while. You come down commit yourself to that race and we will look after you. We have got to do something. There are people out there.”

The year you were second in the’ National’ Julian Goater, who went well clear after a while, at the race at Parliament Hill Fields. It was your breakthrough race as a senior!
‘I was with him after a mile but I was not good enough to go with him. I let him go.’
From just being a Surrey League Champion you came through in that ‘National’ and it gave you the confidence (1 Julian Goater 44:39, (Shaftesbury Barnet), 2 Dave Clarke (Hercules) 46:34; 3 Mick McLeod (Keswick) 46:58 and some names behind that included 4 Dave Moorcroft, 5 Steve Jones, 6 Steve Binns, 7 Keith Newton, 8 Kevin Foster, 9 Bernie Ford, 10 Andy Holden).
You could have won five ‘Nationals but the whole thing changed by having a World Championship Trial, rather than choosing the team from the ‘National’
‘My coach said I should have won the lot, apart from that first one you talk about (John Sullevan of Hercules Wimbledon was his coach. Clarke’s record was impressive, there is no doubt about that).
In 1981 Dave Clarke was second again; 1982 1st at Leeds in 42: 83’; 2nd to Tim Hutchings; ’85;’ 2nd to Dave Lewis; 86’; 2nd to Tim Hutchings; 87’ and 1st in the National of 1987 (1 Dave Clarke 47:04; 2 Steve Binns (Bingley) 47:18; 3 Roger Hackney (Aldershot Farnham & District) 47:46, and behind that were Dave Lewis; Craig Mochrie; Kevin Forster; Martin McLoughlin; Paul Roden; Barry Smith & Jonathan Richards. In 1988 Dave Clarke won at Newark in 44:14; 2nd Dave Lewis; 3rd Craig Mochrie. 1992 you had to do the trial rather than the ‘National’ for selection to the World cross country team for the UK, which was a bit of a shock to the hardened cross-country runner. However, the winner of that trial in 1992 was Dave Clarke with Andy Bristow 2nd and Steve Tunstall 3rd. Dave Clarke went on the next year in 1993 to be second in the trial to Steve Tunstall; with Keith Cullen 3rd.
             The National was his senior breakthrough at Parliament Hill Fields in 1981. “I suppose in some ways, the times I was second, apart from the time against Julian, when I was not good enough, the rest of the times realistically I always had a bad cold or something around that time.”

        I think that was also because of the work as a teacher at Hampton School (After he had been at Dulwich Prep & St Pales School). He even took the boys maintaining very close to the ‘National events’.
He said  “Look at Tony Simons and Dave Black. Some amazing athletes who worked full time and far better than I was! (He said that modestly which I could not agree entirely with, as I regard Dave Clarke as equally great over many years of racing as a  Cross-country runner)
Dave’s highest positions in the World cross country was 7th; 9th & 10th which was something special I would have thought?
(Just behind Dave in the one when he came 10th were some ‘Big Hitters’ like Stephen Moneghetti; Ed Eystone and Francesco Panetta, also, Dave was the first British runner in that race held in Warsaw in 1987)
“A different era but they were incredible athletes about who all worked.”
I must say the Nationals you have won, you were very impressive at Leeds. There were a lot of good athletes in the race that day like Huw Jones, Mick Mcleod, Dave Moorcroft, Roger Hackney, Steve Kenyon, Barry Knight, Nat Muir & Peter Stadning’
“It was a good course’ a nice course’ you liked the hills. Was that one better than the one you beat Steve Binns, on a cold day at Stopsley, Luton, in 1987 - 3rd was Roger Hackney of Aldershot and the RAF?
‘Regarding Steve Binns “I should never have won that. I have never seen a bloke move so fast in my life. Two thirds of the way round the second lap.’
‘The lovely story of that is that Roger Hackney had been clicking me so many times. Roger Hackney often ran just on top of people. I turned round and threatened him, if he clicked me one more time I might be a little unkind’
‘Steve Binns asked me afterwards ‘What happened. Why did you take off so fast?’ I said ‘When he turned round and threatened to hit me, I thought I better go. I was not having a go at you. ‘Weren’t you?’ That was the only reason I went, as previously Steve Binns, had opened up a massive gap on that one.’
‘The last half of that course was quite windy and hilly and I was lucky to catch him. Steve Binns was a brilliant athlete. He was a lovely chap and still is.’
“My first National win was probably the one that stands out. It was one of the hardest races. The easiest one was the one at Newark in 1988. I won by about 43 seconds I think. Dave Lewis came up afterwards and said to me he could not believe how fast I had run’ (1 Dave Clarke (Hercules Wimbledon ) 44:14; 2 Dave Lewis (Rossendale) 45:00; 3 Craig Mochrie (Leicester) 45.12.)
After that race, where it was so rutted, you did yourself in and could not run the London?
“That is right, It gave me an achilles tendon problem. At the time that was the fittest I probably have ever been.”
You would never change anything when you look back?
“It was a brilliant time for running. Britain had the best.’
Where did you like to run the most regarding terrain? Your favourite training place
“Wimbledon Common, It is wonderful for running in some ways. Every place is different”
I used to run round Dulwich Park, coming down from my home in Crystal Palace and, I often thought of the tall blond runner Dave Clarke on my runs round there and how he ran in the big cross-country races.
“I only ran a few times there in Dulwich Park when I was a kid. Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common, anywhere round there is wonderful.”

Alastair Aitken

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