It’s a shame not everybody shares Julian Goater’s enthusiasm.
The road relays are fast-becoming something of a forgotten cause. Passion for the event and coverage in athletics media has been on the wane for a number of years as the club competition strives to stay relevant among the running boom at the bottom and elite doping scandals at the top.
Clubs struggle to get their best runners out – as has always been the case, it has to be said – and the road relays, falling as they do at the beginning and end of the cross country season, become an afterthought for many. But some of the best running memories can be made on the circuit round Sutton Park.
Indeed, Julian Goater was a vital cog in the Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers machine throughout the late-70s and ‘80s and believes the demands of the event has the potential to see runners push their bodies and go places they might not otherwise achieve.
‘There’s a different mentality and attitude to running a relay and racing normally. In normal races you’re often more cautious at the start, you see how the race pans out and develops.
‘In a relay, unless you’re on first leg, that all goes out the window and you run flat out all the way. You end up running in a much more positive way. Relays enable you to perform above and beyond your normal level more often than not, and this is true for road relays all the way down to the 4x400m.’
Julian sees the positive effects a relay element can have on a daily basis. Through his day job coaching in schools, the now 63 year-old experiences first hand the ability of a relay to draw out strengths you didn’t otherwise know you had – all in the pursuit of competition and not wanting to let your teammates down.
‘As soon as you introduce a competition or relay element to what you’re doing – dress up 5 x 1 minute into something more fun for example – then suddenly you get a lot more out of them. It changes the mentality. It gives them the confidence to compete rather than just complete.’
And this notion of competition is something that comes across keenly in his book The Art of Running Faster. This coaching manual for the grassroots runner offers advice based on years of high-level racing and coaching experience.
‘People have got to get out of breath and stop limiting themselves in order to improve. There are lots of gimmicks nowadays that seem to assure people it’s fine to keep plodding. It’s not enough to just keep running slow. It gets you good at plodding rather than racing.
Julian’s list of achievements in the sport reads impressively. His 1981 National Cross Country victory at Parliament Hill ranks highly, swiftly followed by his fourth-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships a few weeks later in Madrid – just four seconds off bronze.
A Commonwealth Games bronze medallist over 10,000m in ‘82, Julian’s time of 27:34.58 in the same year still ranks him 8th in the UK all-time list, ahead of the likes of Steve Jones, Richard Nerurkar and Ian Stewart.
His passion for competition didn’t stop upon retirement from running in the ‘90s. Julian turned to duathlon and triathlon and continued his winning streak, striking gold at the World Duathlon Championships in 2001 and 2005.
Julian won’t be at Sutton Park this year as he continues his recuperation from a fractured pelvis sustained after coming off his bike on greasy roads in Hampshire earlier in the year.
‘It’s a full-time job just recovering. I can’t lift at the moment with this Mikano set inside me. I suppose after stopping running in the mid-90s, I’ve gone nearly twenty years without an accident on the bike. That isn’t too bad.’ Not bad at all.
Julian admits to being ‘slightly disillusioned’ with athletics, like so many of his contemporaries from the 1980s – and it isn’t just the doping and corruption crises in the last twelve months that have soured things for him either. Changes to the calendar on a domestic level have also ‘emasculated’ certain elements for the worse, he believes.
With the road and cross country relays fast-becoming forgotten fixtures, runners wanting to run fast would do well to take heed of Julian’s advice – and keep relay competition alive.