Hutchings leads tributes for legendary coach Frank Horwill

Athletics world is saddened by the passing of renowned distance running coach Frank Horwill MBE

Posted on January 3, 2012 by
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Frank Horwill (Mark Shearman)

Tim Hutchings is one of many from the distance running community to pay tribute to legendary coach Frank Horwill, who lost his battle with cancer on Sunday at the age of 84.

The principal founder of the British Milers Club more than half a century ago, he also coached more than 50 international athletes, lectured worldwide on coaching and authored many articles and books.

Hutchings was perhaps Frank’s biggest success, twice winning the silver medal at the World Cross and finishing fourth in the 5000m at the 1984 Olympics.

“He was a quite remarkable, brilliant man; a true eccentric, full of energy, and one who oozed confidence and passion for the sport of running,” said Hutchings. “He was one of the last of the great old school of coaches: whistle, stop-watch, baseball cap and a bus ticket to get to and from the track – and he was very rarely late for a session for decade after decade of coaching at a wide variety of London tracks. And all this after living one of the most fascinating lives one could imagine before athletics became his love; a book on Frank’s 84 years would be a fabulous read.

“I’m just one of hundreds of athletes that Frank has assisted over the years, and I feel privileged to have fallen under his wing at the age of 15 and spent so many great years with him. Not only was he an astonishing motivator but he was undoubtedly one of the great innovators and no higher praise could be applied than the fact that Seb (Coe) and his father Peter used much of Frank’s thinking when devising their training.”

Tim Brennan, chairman of the BMC, said: “Frank has been an inspiration to me and to so many others lucky enough to spend time with him.

“It is hard to believe that such a life force is no longer with us. Frank’s original vision, intellect and leadership sparked a revival of British middle-distance running and without him there would be no British Milers Club.”

Dave Moorcroft, former UK record-holder over 5000m, added: “Frank made a huge impact on middle distance running in the UK and those of us who benefited from his vision and knowledge have much to be grateful to him for.”

Tributed poured in on twitter too, with UK steeplechase champion Luke Gunn saying that Frank was “a true running enthusiast and coaching pioneer”.

In 1963, following a year in which no British male distance runner appeared in the top 10 of either the world or European rankings, he founded the BMC with the aim of boosting standards in this country. The formula used at BMC meetings – which has spawned corresponding “milers’ clubs” in Ireland, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Malta – is responsible for hundreds of personal bests each season.

Among his first successes was Pete Beacham, whom he guided to a UK 800m record in 1965. Another charge of his, Gill Tivey, set the women’s UK 1500m record in 1968. During his long career, five of his athletes have run sub-four minute miles – the fastest being Hutchings, who ran 3:54:53.

He co-authored with Denis Watts and Harry Wilson the book The Complete Middle Distance Runner, which ran to three editions. He also wrote Obsession for Running, described by The Daily Telegraph as “the athletics book of the year”.

Frank, who was weell known for not being afraid to speak his mind, wrote more than 120 articles for publications such as Athletics Weekly, BMC News, The Coach, Running Times, Peak Performance and Ultra Fit.

He also lectured in Canada, Poland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bahrain, Portugal and South Africa.

Renowned for his hard training programmes, Chrissie Wellington, who was once a regular in his group, described the first of her four world ironman triathlon victories as easier than one of his sessions.

However, aside from these achievements, it was his extraordinary enthusiasm and clear love for the sport that made him stand out.
This was demonstrated by his continuing until this year to coach at least four days a week and at weekends despite health problems.

He had two operations for cancer of the stomach and was left with only one third of his stomach. Three years ago he had major heart bypass surgery and he also battled amyloidosis. However, these issues caught him up with him the week before Christmas when he was admitted to hospital.

His death came little over a month after he visited Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE.

The funeral will be on Tuesday January 17 at Christ Church in the Isle of Dogs from 11.45am with a reception after, also on the Isle of Dogs from about 1.45/2pm.

To help with the arrangements, if you intend to come please email Jane Wingrove (Janewingrove1@aol.com), stating what your relationship was to Frank (eg used to train in his squad, current athlete, fellow coach, friend, BMC coach, etc).

12 Responses to “Hutchings leads tributes for legendary coach Frank Horwill”

  1. Sue and John Walker says:

    We feel privileged to have known Frank – and to have received our personal training programmes from him, though sadly he couldn't inspire us to the heights of Tim Hutchings!

  2. Kevin O'Neill says:

    RIP, one of life's true originals.

  3. Helen Ward says:

    Frank Horwill lived as he would have his athletes race. One hundred percent committed to athletics and willing to take risks without a safety net. He believed in greatness, but was not an elitist. His sessions could leave you in tears–mostly from laughing, as his sense of humor was as sharp as his training ideas. It was a blessing to train with Frank, more so just to have known him.

  4. Julie Prince says:

    Oh Frank, your sessions were hard, your expectations high, but there was always fun. Though it has been many years, I can still hear your voice shouting my surname in encouragement. RIP

  5. Mel Edwards says:

    Frank was the catalyst for me joining Thames Valley Harriers back in 1964, the start of a long family trend as my son Myles is now a member and enjoying his racing in the BAL. Frank's sessions were so well thought out and he was one of the great coaches. Inspirational and hugely talented. Great to have known you Frank.

  6. Margaret Beacham says:

    Wonderful memories of Frank and the many laughs we had. He was a great motivator, great fun. The training was always hard but definitely helped me to achieve great things on the track. For this I thank him. Will miss him but I will always be appreciative of having met him during my life.

  7. Tony Chada says:

    Frank seen a champion in all who trained under him. I was a member of his Squad from 1991-1998. He had time for everyone. I can still hear him saying "Keep Going Keep Going until something inside says KEEP GOING" A true friend he was just great to be around. RIP

  8. jack buckner says:

    Frank was an amazing and inspirational man. The BMC was and remains hugely influential in developing the careers of distance runners. I found both Frank and the BMC races a critical stage of development in my athletics career providing the bridge between youth and senior athletics. At a time when I struggled to get into international events the BMC provided a great platform to build my career. The sport will miss Frank's incredible enthusiasm and energy.

  9. Julian Hough says:

    What a privelege it is to have known Frank and have been coached by him. You would travel for miles to spend time with this man in the fun-filled, hard-working and eccentric atmosphere he brought with him. I'll never forget some his sayings, amongst them "Today's scrubbers are tomorrow's champions" and "We haven't even begun to work yet.". In every sense a legend.

  10. Dr Greg Moon says:

    Often Incredibly irritating but one was totally enveloped by his knowledge, dedication, honesty, innovation and enthusiasm. I was priviledged to have learnt from the Big Three – Watts, Wilson and Horwill. All approached coaching from different perpectives and all achieved great success, but it was Frank who had the most influence, making me think about and justify every session. Opinioated, yes, disdainful of administration, certainly – but then he was one of the best and most dedicated involved in athletics. His infamous and totally un-PC obituary of Harold Abrahams sums him up well – to the point, committed and unflinching. What a breath of fresh air, and what a loss

  11. julie Vernon says:

    So many happy memories, one big happy family, thank you Frank! julie Vernon

  12. @RebekahBB says:

    I read Frank Horwills book on distance running as a teenager, and used his 4 (or 5 second) rule, repetition suggestions and recoveries throughout my training – the original HIIT trainer! I could never fit his weight for height rule though, no matter how hard I tried.

    Inspirational, revolutionary writer.

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