Frank Horwill

Frank Horwill – BMC founder

WHEN talking about Great Britain’s greatest middle and long distance coaches Frank Horwill’s name will be universally acclaimed as being among the finest, not just of his own generation but of all time.

That was recognised among his peers and students of the sport in Britain and internationally long before it was acclaimed in royal circles when Frank was told just prior to his 84th birthday on June 19th 2011 that he was being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Frank with his MBE Frank after Queen’s Garden party

The award was in recognition for Frank’s ‘Services to Athletics’ and there can have been few more popular winners from within the sport.

Thousands of coaches and club athletes, including over 50 internationals from around the world who had been coached by Frank cheered as one when the news was released that Frank was receiving the honour. That such joy has been followed by such deep sadness at his passing in a year when the Olympics return to his home city will be hard to take.

Francis J Horwill was born at Alperton, near Wembley which in the 1920s was in the open countryside, surrounded by farms, outside the smoky, urban bustle of London. Frank was a good all-round athlete as a youngster and was a member of Finchley Harriers from the age of 15 until his early 20’s. As a young man, during and following World War II, he worked as a farmer and a miner, as one of the ‘Bevin Boys’. He had planned on going to South Africa as a gold miner but instead took a Peoples Dispensary for Sick
Animals, PDSA, course and became qualified to work with animals with the RSPCA. He later became a ‘private
investigator’ for several years.

When he decided to take up coaching, he did so with such characteristic thoroughness that by 1961 he had become an AAA Senior Coach. He started coach at club level with Thames Valley Harriers who honoured him as a life Vice President for his services to the club.

Just two years later he took a decision which had an impact on the sport and in the elevation of distance running standards that cannot be under-estimated.

Frank Frank at Battersea (David Cocksedge)

The founding of the British Milers’ Club, the UK’s premier specialist sports club catering for the needs of both developing and established middle and long distance athletes, will be a fitting legacy to Frank’s name.
The BMC was launched when in June of 1963, Frank wrote a letter to Athletics Weekly suggesting the formation of a  specialist club dedicated to raising the standard of British miling by such means as special races, coaching courses and the exchange of coaching information.

Ten ‘founder members’ made up the first meeting and they invited Sir Roger Bannister to become President, and three othermiddle distance luminaries, Gordon Pirie, Sydney Wooderson and Derek Ibbotson, to be Vice Presidents of the new club. The original objectives of the BMC were set out in the club rules as:

• to raise the standard of British miling to world supremacy

• to increase the knowledge of coaches and others interested in the event

Under Frank’s inspired leadership both those targets were achieved with stunning success.

By 1980 Britain’s men had achieved the BMC’s original objective of raising the standard of British men’s miling to world supremacy when Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett shared both Olympic golds and World Records between them. In 2004, Kelly Holmes took British women’s middle distance running to similar world supremacy when she achieved gold in the 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympic Games.

At the same time Frank never lost sight of his love of coaching and arguably his greatest success came when Tim Hutchings finished fourth in the 5000m at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and was twice runner-up in the World Cross Country Championships.

Frank at Merthyr Mawr

Frank spent over 50 years as a volunteer coach and even in recent times, when his health started to deteriorate, he still insisted, selflessly, on coaching a group including his three current GB International marathoners at the Battersea track on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and his two-hour Saturday morning sessions remain the stuff of running legend.
It was at sessions like those, working with is athletes, that he admitted he came alive.
In the early 1970s Frank formulated and innovated the ‘Five-Pace System’ of training, which was utilised by many, most famously Sebastian Coe, Said Aouita and, more recently, the 2000 Olympic 1500m Champion, Noah Ngeny. Frank’s system has become the foundation of many of the multi-pace systems of training being used by coaches around the world today.

He also formulated and innovated the ‘Horwill 4-Seconds Rule’, which relates the potential pace of an athlete for various distances. Like many ground-breaking systems and rules they seem obvious, once stated. It takes a special and creative person, however, to make the initial statement.

As a writer, he was co-author in the early 1970s of ‘The Complete Middle Distance Runner’ with Dennis Watts and Harry Wilson. This long out-of-print book is held in such high regard internationally that it is currently exchanging hands on the internet at prices of 400 to 1,300 US dollars. In 1994 he wrote ‘Obsession for Running’, described by The Daily Telegraph as, “The athletics book of the year”.
He has authored in excess of 120 articles for publications such as the ‘BMC News’, ‘Athletics Weekly’, ‘The Coach’, ‘Running Times’, ‘Peak Performance’ and ‘Ultra Fit’. He somehow finds time to write short stories including the winner of  ‘Writer’ magazine award for 1980, ‘The Man Next Door’. Another one titled, ‘The Failure’ was clearly not autobiographical.

But Frank’s contributions extend far beyond the relatively narrow confines of international-level middle and long distance running. Through his articles he has helped thousands upon thousands of recreational runners both in the UK and abroad.

In the future, Frank will be remembered by the running community for so many things, not least as Founder of the British Milers’ Club, innovator of Five Pace training and the Four Seconds Rule. He has created a legacy of coaching knowledge and practice.

But the enduring legacy is, and will continue to be, the BMC, which continues to drive British men’s and women’s international running forwards. It was entirely appropriate for Frank’s far-reaching and epic achievements to be recognised and honoured in his lifetime.

Frank Horwill
1927 – 2012