|Fred Lester in full flight. |
Although I didn't know it at the time we first met, and didn't bother to ask, Fred had already had a very interesting life. All I knew was that he was also Secretary of the Victorian Marathon Club, wore an Australian Army slouch hat, spoke with a strong German accent, and was always willing to provide coaching advice. As young twenty-year-olds, with the world at our feet, we were often cruel to the resilient Fred. We jibed him about which side he fought for in World War II, when in fact he was a German Jew who had escaped Germany just before the war as a boy and ultimately ended up enlisted in the Australian Army. He wore panty-hose in winter to keep warm, long before similar running-specific clothing was sold, and encouraged us to do likewise. None of us did, but we certainly gave him a hard time about it. He often prescribed a track session when we turned up at the old Yarra Park grass track in Melbourne for evening training and we would studiously ignore his advice, and do our own thing.
|Fred Lester with his hero Emil Zatopek. |
He was an excellent coach of younger athletes and always had a few coming up through the ranks, mostly via the Catholic School system. He drove them and us to races in his van and we often wondered what their Catholic parents would think if they knew their children were under the tutelage of a proud card-carrying member of the Australian Communist Party. To his absolute credit he kept his running and political lives totally separate, though was always quick to rail against authority and bureaucracy. Fred didn't tolerate fools, and I can remember hearing him say "Christ, you took your bloody head out there, why didn't you use it?" on more than one occasion after I had messed up a race tactically. Many runners from those years have other favourite Fred sayings.
|Fred laying down the law to some junior|
volunteers at a running event.
I now also realise that Fred, leading by example, probably sparked my interest in creating events for runners of all standards, something which provides me with great satisfaction to this day. One event he created, the annual Emil Zatopek 10,000m track race in Melbourne, continues to attract the very best runners in Australia each December more than fifty years since its inception in 1961.
I haven't done justice to Fred's contributions to me and running in this brief blog post. You can read an excellent article published in the Melbourne Age newspaper about Fred's very interesting life here. It's worth the read. The collected volumes of the Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter, available here, give some indication of how much work Fred put into the running scene over many years.
For my training today, I ran an easy 11km. I was tired after yesterday's 21km, but I was pleased with the underlying strength I'm starting to feel in my legs and my average training pace is gradually improving.