“The track is home”, says Amy at the end of training. Paul quickly adds, “Yeah it is, isn’t it? I love the track. It is all I used to do as a kid.” The two of them have just finished an intervals session of 10 times 400 meters at the Holden Centre under the guidance of their running coach, Campbell Maffet who runs the group, Love the Run (LtR). On this night, the group was made up of six runners: Andrew, Paul, Amy, Debbie, Luke and myself. The group is running on the track that is on the periphery of Collingwood Football Club’s training oval, in between the Glasshouse cafe and the AAMI Park (aka Melbourne Rectangular Stadium) – which is a multi-purpose venue used for football (soccer), rugby (league and union) and rock concerts (for example, Bruce Springsteen, February 2017).
The LtR runners aren’t the only runners on the track: there are two or three other groups present. These groups are seemingly elite: Olympians, some seniors, some juniors. In the hot February weather, some runners run bare chested: their torsos indicating how running has shaped their musculature. A strict and shared sense of track-etiquette amongst runners prevents any collisions taking place. Two teams from the Collingwood Football Club go about their training, too: the newly-established women’s team and the reserves go through their paces while a small group of die-hard fans watch on. Some Collingwood officials interrupt the runners and tell them to keep of the turf. The runners reply with contempt at the gratuitous claim of ownership over space: ‘okay mate’. The footballers and the runners are indifferent to one another.
LtR attracts a range of runners with varying degrees of commitment to the group and varying rates of attendance at the twice weekly training sessions. There are around over 100 runners on the LtR mailing list – only are portion are currently active – and Campbell diligently sends emails twice weekly: on Thursdays and Sundays. The training sessions are varied, rigorous and detailed. He engages specifically with each runner before and after each session. During the sessions Campbell does not run, and occupies his time by monitoring the performances of his runners while also attending to other matters related to his group and running: preparing his emails, reading up on the latest information regarding training, injury prevention, diet etc. In his own words, Campbell is a ‘running nerd’. But ‘nerd’ is a somewhat pejorative term: this contrasts with the respect in which he is held by those who run within his group. Runners, as athletes, are a finicky bunch: many amateurs feel empowered enough to take control over their own schedules and sessions. There is sometimes a degree of negotiation between what Campbell advises and what his runner chooses to do.
Campbell, whose best marathon time is 2 hours 32 minutes, which is fast by some measures but still quite a margin outside any national qualification standards. Campbell, who is now in his late -40s and has two young children, however, continues to strive for a competitive edge across a range of distances. He runs five or six days a week and covers distances of 70-120km per week. He works in IT at the Melbourne Blood Bank and all own running alone, before day-break and prior to children waking up. Campbell’s daily schedule is a mix of family, work and running commitments. ‘I like order and structure’, he says. So, despite the hectic nature of his daily routine it maintains a degree of simplicity.
Campbell has completed a number of coaching courses and although he charges a fee for his training services, he is flexible about it and the purpose of the group is not financially motivated. Campbell seeks to establish a balance between gaining a number of committed runners/athletes and getting them to (metaphorically) buy into the training as well as to be compensated for his time, long-term investment and expertise. Campbell regularly produces new t-shirts and caps which are adorned with the LtR logo; this serves as an informal branding exercise. The LtR website is updated occasionally and contains general information about the group, but Campbell doesn’t expressly seek to attract new members, preferring instead to have a small group with whom he can maintain close contact with. From October 2016 to February 2017, Campbell trialled a change in venue for the Thursday training sessions to Fairfield Park in the inner north of Melbourne. But, this proved difficult to access for a number of core members of the group during peak traffic hours.
Campbell says, ‘running is fantastic in the Studley Park area. There is a great variety of training options that are possible. It is also very convenient for myself as I live close-by. It is a great family spot and having the training there was not only a nice change for the runners, but also because I wanted to make myself more available for my wife and children. My wife fully supports my coaching and LtR activities, but, by having the summer sessions at Fairfield it allowed me to maintain a greater family-running balance, especially given that I don’t run during the training sessions.’
Campbell’s decision to move the Thursday sessions back to the Olympic Park track (i.e. Holden Centre) were based on his coaching priorities. Campbell explains: “With the Thursday sessions at Fairfield, I started to lose track of where a lot of the runners were at – continuity was missing. While some were away on summer holidays , many found it difficult to come to the sessions. This meant there were fewer runners and it lacked the group spirit we had at Olympic Park.The lack of face-time with athletes is important for me as a coach. Although the services such as Strava and the like let me know what people are doing in training, it is very important as a coach to be able to speak directly to the athletes I’m coaching. This is how I really understand how the runners are going with training, how they are feeling, whether or not they have any niggles and to get a sense of which races they are aiming for. Splitting the sessions between two venues impacted how I was able to coach.”
Running on the Olympic Park oval running track reminds Amy of her teenage years and athletic training at her high-school in Alabama, USA. For Paul, it reminds him of his youth and successful running exploits in regional Victoria – Bendigo and elsewhere. For me, it reminds me of my unsuccessful efforts at high-school – before I discovered my relatively decent ability as a long-distance runner. Despite the peculiar shape of the 507m track (i.e. oval, with no-straights, as the typical 400 meter running track), its texture and bounciness reminds runners of elsewhere-places: which are both geographically and temporally separate and distant. The efforts to quash nature – through laying out a uniform track – allows for a runner’s imagination to wander and remember elsewhere.