Matt Long celebrates a very special anniversary in our sport. The scene: Crystal Palace. The date: July 13th 1973. 

Fifty years ago to this very day a young 23 year old has begun the 10,000m final with a lightning fast 8m08.4s opening 3000m on the Friday evening of the AAA championships.

Head down and with a large distinctive number 1 of the back of his GB striped vest, Dave Bedford charges through the halfway split faster than any man has previously done in a knee-trembling 13m39.4s with Tony Simmons, who will go on to take a European silver the next summer, giving spirited but ultimately forlorn chase less than two seconds in arrears.

Into the second half of have race and the Shaftesbury Barnet man is metronomically clocking off 67s splits and the crowd are sensing that the world record of the Munich Olympic champion Lasse Viren (27m38.35s) is under threat.

With 1km remaining he is over 100 metres ahead of the Flying Finn’s schedule and seemingly only has to stand up to go down in history with the likes of Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek and Ron Clarke.

The late great Ron Pickering senses it and tells his BBC audience, “So Bedford is back in business. There’s the crowd lifting him again”.

Entering the home straight and on his way to a 60 second last lap, Pickering knows that the crowd are about to witness the first world record in London for 19 years since Chris Chataway’s thriller in edging the great Vladimir Kuts over 5000m and he screams into his microphone, “the crowd are standing on their feet and roaring him on. And Bedford is back in front of his home crowd flogging himself as he always does”.

Moments later the clock stops at 27m30.8s and Bedford and Bob Parker, who has coached him since the age of 15, will enjoy a celebratory lap together and an iconic image captured by Mark Shearman.

Lessons Learned

In analysing the training of the man, whose run that day remarkably still ranks him as highly as 9th on the UK all time list half a century later, its very easy to dismiss his schedule which famously often involved three times a day sessions (3-4 hours a day) and around 200 miles per week.

The athletics community rightly shakes its head with a collective rueful grin in pointing out that Bedford had seen his best days by his mid 20s. He would have to deal with a catalogue of injuries which could clearly be correlated with the volume undertook. Indeed any coach advocating the following of his schedule would rightly risk having their license revoked.

The eccentric Bedford once tried to ‘experiment’ by, incredibly, running 5 (yes five!) sessions a day and claimed to have a V02 max of 85.3 which the Swedish Institute of Physiology would say ranked him higher than any other sports person in the world in the early 1970s. “I am the man with the greatest oxygen capacity in the world and I’ve got the papers to prove it”, he would boast.

Guided Discovery

In modern coach education terms his approach under the watchful eye of the aforementioned Parker could best be framed as a practice of ‘guided discovery’.

This being said the old adage of throwing the ‘baby out with the bathwater’ comes to mind when re-assessing the training of the moustached man who ran in the famous red socks. We risk losing the little gems from Bedford’s approach because of our collective readiness to reject it as a whole instead of just removing what is bad.

Lesson 1. Aerobic endurance

As a senior athlete in his early 20s Bedford would effect sessions like 12x400m. Critically this should be framed as interval rather than repetition training because the focus was on the active mode of recovery. He would say, “There is no earthly reason why, if your body is fit, that jog (recovery) shouldn’t be 65s for 400m”.

Whilst most of us could not do a one lap recovery in 65s for our interval training and this number should be disregarded, it does suggest that Bedford leaned towards the kind of ‘float’ or recoveries advocated by the likes of Oregon based coach Peter Thompson who has done great work in exploring how roll-on recoveries can help teach the body how to use lactate more efficiently for fuelling the body.

Significantly, in his teenage years, Beford would effect at least one or perhaps two fartleks a week. The unstructured fartlek as advocated by the great Gosta Holmer, is a superb ‘bridging’ session in between an easy aerobic run on the one hand and an intense interval or repetition session on the other.

If effected in the true spirit of its inherent ‘playfulness’ then it is the one session which is guaranteed to work all three energy systems- aerobic, lactate and alactic, without risking over stressing the system of a young athlete.

Lesson 2. Strength endurance

Strength endurance was central to the approach undertaken by Bedford with Parker. In his later teens he would undertake 15 x 200 metres hill runs. This work was kept aerobically dominant because unlike conventional hill sprints with a slow jog down recovery, coach Parker would instil in him, “It’s the time lag in between going up the hill and down again that counts. If that varies it’s no good as an exercise. You’ve got to get that down to perfection. Down the hill quick and back up again”.

The above would again be framed today as a mode of Kenyan hill. This form of hill training can sometimes be overlooked by athletes keep to transition from hilly runs to outright ‘hill reps’.

The aerobic energy system can be built continuously, allowing the athlete to build a bigger base in order to eventually reach a higher peak of performance, so this is precisely why Beford and Parker could effect this mode of strength endurance training all year round.

Lesson 3: Speed endurance

Bedford could “only” run 400m in 54s as a senior athlete and as an 18 year old his 2m05s for 800m and 4m19s for a mile would see him struggle to gain entry to British Milers’ club events. Pure speed and speed endurance were evidently not his strength which account for his failure to win gold at a major championships in a tactical race.

A favouring of work leaning towards aerobic and strength endurance did not however mean that speed endurance was completely neglected.

In his book High Performance Middle Distance Running, the late Dave Sunderland articulated no less than seven modes of speed endurance work, one of which was the ‘Quality repetition’. In the pre-competition phase of his periodisation cycle in the lead up to his world record Bedford ran 2 x 6 laps at 5000m pace to give him speed reserve for the longer 25 laps.

In his teenage years his ‘speed’ work consisted of sessions like 30 x 100m which with the benefit of hindsight and advances in sports science could have been considerably reduced in volume, with the work shortened to 60m to keep it alactic.

Bedford Reborn

Its fair to say that a teenage Dave Bedford being time travelled into the year 2023 may well been encouraged to reflect that his ‘sweet spot’ for mileage was considerably less than 200 miles a week.

We would be likely to see him maintaining his tremendous aerobic and strength endurance through a variety of cross training techniques including non weight bearing swimming and cycling.

Its also likely that as a teenage athlete he would have been encouraged to develop his ‘window for speed’ a little more over 400m, 800m and 1,500m. his peed endurance work would be more diversified and would involve, pace progressors, pace injectors and tired surges to help him meet the demands of championship racing on a global stage.

This being said Bedford together with Parker, would rightly argue they played the hand which they were dealt with and chose to work on their strengths.

The above leaves us with the following questions for self-reflection:

1. How am I developing my aerobic endurance and strength endurance capabilities so that I have a sufficient platform to be able to undertake speed endurance work?
2. When should I undertake weight bearing work and non weight bearing work to develop my aerobic and strength endurance capabilities?
3. Why is it important to make the most of those ‘windows of opportunity’ for speed development before moving up in racing distance?
4. What am I doing to monitor the frequency, intensity and volume of my training load to ensure I have the option of a prolonged running career?

Matt Long is based at Loughborough University and has Team Managed or Coached for his country on 17 occasions. He welcomes contact through