Search This Blog

Rob de Castella

Me (in green hoops) at the 16km mark en route to my PB marathon
(2nd, 2:19:06)
behind Rob De Castella (1st, 2:14:44) at Point Cook,
Victoria, in June 1979.
One of my claims to fame is that I ran second to Rob de Castella, Australia's most famous marathoner, in his first marathon.  The apocryphal story is that Rob only ran the marathon, the 1979 Victorian Championship, to get a place in the Victorian team for the Australian Championship to be held in Perth later in the year.  His girlfriend lived in Perth, and he had no money.

I've often said that to be a great runner you need to inherit the right genes from your parents, have the self-discipline to do the necessary training and hard-nosed racing, and be lucky enough to avoid serious injury.  I think Rob had all of those attributes and used them to become the best in the world.

Winning the Cinque Mulini race
in Italy.

I first became aware of Rob when he was still a junior athlete and can remember him as an impoverished student driving an old Peugeot 403 and camping near us for one of the first Bacchus 12000 races at Griffith (see post titled Bacchus 12000).  There was no arrogance, but you sensed there was enormous potential and I was always a keen follower of his running career and proud to know him.

We were more acquaintances than friends, but often trained with the same groups, especially on the long Sunday runs in the Dandenongs (see post titled Ferny Creek 21).  As I recall, after running the regular 21 Miler for some years, I decided I needed to add some distance to bring it up to 25 miles some Sundays, and was gratified to see Rob occasionally following suit a few months later.  There were also some Wednesday evening runs in Melbourne.  They were fast 15-20 milers after work over inner city parks and roads and I can remember grimly hanging on to the small bunch of class runners as we flew across Royal Park at better than 6 minute mile pace.

Although he had already represented Australia internationally as a cross-country runner, that first marathon in 1979 signalled the start of a famous career that included Commonwealth Games, World Championship, Boston and New York titles, along with a world's best time.

The last time I trained with Rob was when we passed through Boulder, Colorado, where he was living as a full-time professional athlete, while travelling the US in 1985.  The morning run was a few miles with him and Rosa Mota, one of the best female marathoners of her era, and the evening session was on the track at the local university where I was totally out of my depth in twelve laps of sprinting the straights.

He was always a class, or two, above me as a runner, but I felt a kinship because I knew first-hand how hard he trained to get where he did.

I ran just 5km around Copa this morning, but maybe ran a little harder.  I coped well enough, but never felt comfortable.  I was stiff and my knees hurt.  What was more disturbing, however, was the post-run read-out on my heart monitor which showed an erratic beat for the first ten minutes.  It could be a technical glitch, but I was conscious of an uneasy feeling in my chest early in the run.  Memo to self: start slowly and build into future runs.