Neil Featherby: You can have all the technology you want but there’s no substitute for hard graft as Nick Earl would testify

CONAC athlete Nick Earl was in fine form at the Melbourne Marathon recently. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

CONAC athlete Nick Earl was in fine form at the Melbourne Marathon recently. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

City of Norwich AC athlete Nick Earl once again produced a super performance when finishing in fourth place in the Melbourne Marathon, recording a time of 2-18:52.

I stand to be corrected, but I think he is only the fourth person from Norfolk to break the sub 2-20 barrier in a marathon.

Needless to say there is also the truly great Paul Evans, but I am never 100 percent sure if he was regarded as a Suffolk or Norfolk athlete.

Perhaps we can both claim him especially what with him also still being ranked fifth on the all-time UK list with his amazing 2:08:52 clocking in 1996 whilst winning the Chicago marathon. However and 30+ years ago, I remember having a conversation with Brendon Byrne and the late Ed Comber where they told me the only person to have broken 2-20 from Norfolk was the great Mike Tagg, who had ran a marathon in South Africa in 2:19:50. With that I set about trying to break this barrier myself for which I matched this with a 2:19:07 in 1985 and followed up with a 2:17:35 the following year.

Since then and up until Nick's run last weekend, I think only one other person from the county has gone under and that was Craig Hobson, who ran a super fast 2:16:52 in America five years ago after moving out there to study a couple of years before that.

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Nick for several years has been one of the county's best runners, but during the last two or three years, he really has gone to another level, particularly from 10k upwards for which Mark, asked me if I thought that I could have ran even quicker than I actually did if I had the same technology which exists today.

With that I very quickly replied with, if I knew back then what I now know today then I would have definitely ran a quicker marathon time and at other distances too, but as for technology forget it.

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It also comes down to defining technology. If we are talking about footwear, then the shoes which the elite athletes race in really are not much different to what the front runners would have used 30 years ago and as for GPS watches, gels, and other products designed to aid us whilst running, then absolutely not. Possibly a gel here or there, but for the very focused athletes, they know what they are doing and just get on with it.

Footwear for training has made huge advances for which training shoes most certainly allow for more protection and support which of course could be argued that there is long term benefits and GPS watches help with pace control etc, but seriously none of this is applicable to elite athletes whilst racing.

I have always been big into heart rate monitoring for training, but that is nothing new. With regards to research and sports science, well there will always be advancements with this, but I have research papers and books for which there really is very little difference from reading some of the papers which were produced two to even three decades ago to some of the final conclusions from the latest research.

Some of the thoughts on sports nutrition seem to be under question of late. I regularly talk to my good friend Chas Allen who is most certainly an expert on all things running and has made me stop and think about a number of things. At the same time I also know he is open to change if need be.

At the end of the day, being the best you can be is all about drive and determination, using your intelligence and knowledge and of course any technology to assist your training. But it should never been seen as a short cut or replacement for putting in the hard graft.

Going back to Nick, I also think his career has moved on to another level after moving to Australia. He is very much a Norfolk boy and is still mentored by two of Norfolk's most distinguished coaches, Tim and Pauline Ash.

At the same time perhaps down under he isn't the same big fish as he is here and this will also have helped to have raised his game.

I am led to believe that he has been training with some guys who are world class and as the saying goes, success breeds success.

I am seriously so very pleased for him and having looked at his splits, he ran the first half in 67:38 with a second half showing of 71:14. That is a slowing of over three and a half minutes.

When I ran 2:17:35, my splits were 69:12 and 68:23. My five best marathons saw me running 31:51 to 32:07 for the last 10k.

In other words I had learnt to pace myself over the 26.2 mile distance. I also had it in mind that with structured training, I would be able to maintain a pace of about 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than my pace for races at shorter distances i.e. 10k to the half marathon.

With this in mind and once Nick really gets to grips with racing the distance, I am convinced he will go on to run some very fast marathons indeed. At the same time he and of course Dani Nimmock, who is currently showing our ladies the way, they should both be an inspiration to our many other Norfolk athletes who are also currently training hard with suggestions that they too are looking to raise the bar. With the right training perhaps even they might be able to go even faster than us old timers who like to regularly go on about how the standards of the good club athlete were much better back in the day.

Consistency over technology every time for me.

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