Frank Horwill MBE, 19 June 1927 – 1 January 2012
We learnt of the passing of Frank Horwill from Peter Thompson. Mr. Horwill died, peacefully, “surrounded by friends” per Mr Thompson, on January 1, 2012 at 4:49 PM Local time.
Peter shared a piece with us from BMC News on Frank Horwill. We felt that, with Peter’s piece and the earlier one by Pat Butcher, we have provided more of a picture of one of the most influential and colorful coaches in our global sport of athletics. We hope that you find this piece fascinating, as we have.
(The photo is courtesy of Peter Thompson, from 28 May 2005 of Frank Horwill).
The BMC News applauds Frank Horwill MBE
Frank Horwill, who continues to dedicate his life to improving distance running, celebrated his 84th birthday on 19 June 2011. One week prior to this day he received an early ‘present’ when it was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list on June 11th that Francis Horwill of East London had received an MBE for “Services to Athletics”. The BMC applauds and celebrates this long-overdue and well-deserved recognition of our ‘Comrade’ and principal Founder with this article, which provides some of the background as to why one of Britain’s greatest endurance coaches was awarded this recognition and Civil Honour.
Frank Horwill is an internationally respected Athletics Coach specialising in the endurance events. Within the sport of athletics in the UK he has been recognised for his prodigious output as a personal coach of 49 British male and female middle and long distance athletes who have represented their country on the track, over the country and on the roads.
Within this role of ‘International Athletics Middle and Long Distance Coach’, Frank Horwill has also chosen to maintain a sustained contribution to others through many avenues of coach education. The role of ‘Coach Educator’ is one he has embraced, inspiring and informing hundreds, if not thousands, of other coaches without detriment to his own practical, track-side coaching.
Perhaps the most outstanding role that Frank Horwill has played, and continues to play, is as the Founder 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.
Service to British Athletics
Frank Horwill has coached with commitment as a volunteer coach under the accreditation of, historically, the England Amateur Athletics Association, AAAs; the British Amateur Athletics Board, BAAB; the British Athletics Federation, BAF and, most recently, UK Athletics for which he is a UKA Level 4 (highest award) endurance coach.
He has coached 49 athletes who have gained a GB International vest under his tutelage and coaching. Athletes he has coached include Tim Hutchings, 4th place finisher in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and twice second place finisher in the World Cross Country Championships. He has taken athletes through from school age to become senior internationals and has coached World Master international athletes, some from his own squad of senior athletes. Frank’s athletes stay with his squad and stay with the sport of Athletics because of their training in a programme imbued with enthusiasm and motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic.
As a volunteer coach, Frank Horwill has, for over 50 years now, coached his squads at least four days a week and at weekends. Now, approaching the age of 85 years and in poor health, he still insists, 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.
The ‘Horwill Five-Pace System’ and ‘Horwill 4-Seconds Rule’
In the early 1970s Frank Horwill 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.
His Contributions to Athletics
Frank Horwill’s contributions are globally recognised in the running community. These contributions have helped others to achieve success at the highest international levels. It must be emphasized that his impact on other coaches is tremendous within the UK, as a role model and as an inspirational and motivational educator, but extends well beyond these shores.
It is often said that one can never be a prophet in your own country but Frank has managed to achieve this, to be a ‘prophet’ in the UK and still be recognised as a ‘prophet’ abroad. He has lectured internationally, including, in Canada, Poland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bahrain, Portugal and South Africa. In South Africa, for example, he is still sought out by established and upcoming coaches and athletes whenever he makes one of his regular visits to the country.
Frank Horwill has never shirked from saying something controversial, if he believed it was for the good of athletics, and this honest determination is to be seen in everything he does, which is to remain consistently faithful to the BMC, his athletes and to the community of athletics.
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. He is able to express for them the principles of achievement at the highest levels in a way that is understandable and meaningful for their own endeavours. For example, the Serpentine Running Club in London is one of the largest recreational running clubs in the UK (2,332 members of whom 44% are women) and has, with Frank’s permission, posted 72 of his articles on their website. (These articles are viewable on www.serpentine.org.uk/pages/advice_frank.html)
Duration of Voluntary Service
Frank Horwill’s commitment has been without break over a time period of fifty years, from when he first commenced coaching.
In June of 1963, Frank Horwill founded the British Milers’ Club, following a year in which British male middle distance athletes failed to enter the top ten of the World or European Rankings.
In 1965 Frank coached his first UK indoors record-breaker at 800 metres and was to repeat this in 1966 with the women’s 1500 metres. In 1971 one of his female athletes ran a world’s best 3km time indoors. In the course of the next five years coaching, his athletes broke five UK indoors records. He has, however, never rested on his achievements as a coach. During his long career five of his athletes have run sub-4 minute miles – the fastest being Tim Hutchings, who ran 3:54:53.
Frank Horwill’s contribution has been sustained to the current day, producing, to date, 49 GB International representatives. During this time he has devoted at least four or more days a week to coaching track-side – thousands of volunteered hours pursuing his avocational ‘profession’.
His commitment to coach education began with the founding of the British Milers’ Club and continues to the present day, when he is invited by various organisations, clubs, counties and regions to speak to their athletes
and coaches. What impresses is that he has always moved forward encouraging new innovations in his own practice and applying this to others’ practice. This is as true today, at 84 years of age, as when he first started the BMC in 1963.
Recognition within the Athletics Community
Frank Horwill’s contributions and achievements are globally recognised in the athletics and running community and by the media who cover this relatively small area of sport. An example of this is The Daily Telegraph’s reaction to his 1994 book, ‘Obsession for Running’; described by them as, “The athletics book of the year”.
Frank has not sought reward or award for his dogged commitment to his athletes and the British Milers’ Club. But the ‘word’ of the BMC has spread to other countries, driven from like-minded individuals within these countries, so that we now see ‘Milers’ Clubs’ in Ireland, Australia, the United States of America, New Zealand and Malta. Each of these clubs has reciprocity with the BMC and each club knows and respects the role and place of Frank Horwill.
His Place in British Athletics
In 1676, Isaac Newton stated, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Frank Horwill has ‘seen far’ and would recognise the giants upon whose shoulders he has stood, while he has also continuously seen things in a fresh and innovative way. But, within the middle and long distance running community, Frank has been recognised, himself, for many years to be one of the ‘International Giants’ upon whose shoulders so many others now stand.
There is no single British endurance coach, to my knowledge, who has produced so many British internationals as Frank. And he matches this unparalleled achievement by producing these results in an ongoing atmosphere of focused fun. His energy, enthusiasm, humour and passion are infectious and, as has already been said, his athletes have longevity because of their enjoyment derived from the training environment and process he creates.
It must also be said that Frank Horwill stands out also because of his incredible selfless commitment to athletics and athletes – this is without doubt. This is true throughout his coaching career but over the past twenty-five years he has, increasingly, had to battle significant health problems. He has had two operations for cancer of the stomach in the 1990s, and has one third of his stomach left. Three years ago he had major heart bi-pass surgery and is now battling Amyloidosis. Despite occasional chemotherapy and frequent hospital visits he attends training sessions at Battersea as before, placing what physical energy he has into care for his group of athletes. Despite this precarious health status, he still regularly produces one or two thought-provoking articles a week for various magazines. But his passion and enthusiasm for coaching burn is brightly as ever. When talking about his time coaching at Battersea, his frequent quote is, “When I come to the track, I become alive.”
In the future, Frank Horwill 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 is appropriate for Frank Horwill’s far-reaching and epic achievements to be recognised and honoured in his lifetime – I am sure you will agree.
Frank Horwill is a man of many quotes including, “We’ve only just begun to work”, “Anyone can run fast repetitions and have a cup of tea and a bun after each repetition!”, “Keep going, keep going, keep going until a little something inside you says, “Keep going””.
Track side, at the 200m mark at BMC meetings he has been heard offering ‘encouragement’, saying, “If you can’t go faster than that – get off the track.”
When talking about his time coaching at Battersea, his frequent quote is, “When I come to the track, I become alive.”
A Brief Biography of Frank Horwill and the BMC
He was born Francis J Horwill at Alperton, near Wembley which in the 1920s was in the open countryside, surrounded by farms, outside the smokey, 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. During the past 50 years, he has become best known as the Founder of the British Milers’ Club.
In June of 1963, Frank Horwill 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 other middle 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
The early entry standards for the mile were 4:20 for senior men and 5:15 for women, with annual subscriptions set at five shillings. Member number one was Hugh Barrow of Glasgow who had just won the British Junior Mile title leading from the front, epitomising the philosophy of the BMC. The club divided the country into regions, with each region having a qualified Senior AAA Coach as secretary who organised paced races and training days. In the days before highly paid professional ‘rabbits’, each BMC race had a designated ‘hare’ selected from the athletes who had entered the race who was responsible for the fast, pre-determined pace through the first half to three quarters of the distance.
The first BMC invitation race was in the North of England and can be considered a qualified success. The race itself proved a fine duel between Derek Grahame of Northern Ireland and Neil Duggan of Sparkhill Harriers, with Duggan prevailing in 4:06.5. Half the invited field, however, failed to appear at the race. The BMC decided to implement a tough policy with those athletes who accepted race invitations in writing and then failed to show. They were banned from all BMC races for a year unless they could prove injury, sickness or being picked for GB & NI on the same day. It was interesting to see the British Athletes Association in 1996 echo this policy with their requirements for British International athletes competing in BAF invitational events.
By 1980 our 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.
Special thanks to Peter Thompson for his note and tribute to Mr. Horwill. Peter Thompson lives in Eugene, Oregon and can be read at www.newintervaltraining.com. Mr. Thompson is a long time coach and supporter of athletics.
Two additional pieces of interest:
USATF Oregon Long Distance Running: Frank Horwill RIP
The IMC has regretfully learned of the death of Frank Horwill (renowned coach and founder of the BMC). His influence on athletics has been tremendous. …
TROUBLEMAKER-IN-CHIEF | Globe Runner blog
The ‘official’ obituaries of Frank Horwill, who died on Sunday, January 1, at the age of 84 will doubtless hint at his unofficial role in British athletics over the last 50 …