Saturday, 6 October 2012

A guru, mentor and coach - Ali McMurran


Another follower on Twitter? So what? It was number 302. It didn’t have any meaning.
Then I saw the name, Alistair McMurran @alistaim. I was floored. I had lost touch with by mentor, coach, bible-class teacher, friend, fellow tramper and athlete. Of all the people I have known over many decades, Alistair taught me the meaning of perseverance, fitness, gentleness, love, compassion, humility and coping with pain. I remember when I was about 16, I got the alarming news that Alistair was in hospital with a broken neck and damaged spine after a wool bale fell on him while working in a wool store.  I rushed to hospital and there he was smiling, a screw in his skull and a counterweight on a pulley, and the first thing he said was “How are you Bob?” That was typical of Ali, always caring for others but not himself. The pain was severe for months but he endured it with dignity and was out running again a few months later.
I first met Ali as we called him, at Sunday school as a 5 or 6 year old.. This Jesus-looking character seemed straight out of the Bible with bushy beard and flowing locks. He taught at bible class. Some years later when I was 11 or so, he became my bible class teacher. A first class cricketer, tramper and mountaineer, competent athlete, and so gentle, this man breathed humanity and simplicity. Usually Bible class lasted an hour and he would walk us up a hill overlooking the harbour, or sit us under a tree and talk about cricket or rugby, rules of good living, and how we should be helping one another. He never peddled religion but was a model of what the Ten Commandments stood for.
At 13 I was in a group of experimental athletes who were following the Arthur Lydiard 100 mile a week regime. Inspired by Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and John Davies our group of Brian Taylor, Ali McMurran, Nev Cleveland, John Campbell, Rob Urquhart, Chip Dunckley, Jim Williamson and others who flexed in and out of this group, were at the cutting edge of endurance training.. Running 25 miles on a Sunday as a 14 year old was normal. We ran over Dunedin’s 3 mile hill and round the water races, sometimes broaching the 30 mile mark and returning home exhausted. We flogged ourselves over sand hills at Tomahawk beach and the results came. Brian Taylor won the Festival mile in 1965 in 4 mins 10 sec, and I broke the Otago Under 17, 800 m record and did well in the NZ Championships that year. But Brian and Ali started to differ on training ideas and our group split a little. I remember one cold November day just after I turned 17, running my first marathon up the lower Clutha River. Rain turned to sleet and many favoured runners pulled out. The training with Ali and Brian paid off and I was just a few seconds over the 3 hour mark. Ali was there to welcome me at the finish and told me I had what was required to go further as an 800 metre runner. Soon after I broke the Otago junior record in 800 m recording 1m 57.6 seconds and Neville Cleveland was turning into a class cross country and 5000 m runner. His protegee John Campbell got in the NZ team for the World Cross Country championships at 18 years of age.

I judge a man by the way he looks after his Mother. I would visit the McMurran household at 119 Kenmure Road in Mornington regularly, and would always be warmly greeted by his Mum. Ali loved his Mum dearly, and as she aged, he was a devoted son and cared for her so well.
I will always be grateful to Ali McMurran and Brian Taylor for giving me 5-6 years of endurance training which laid a foundation for the rest of my life.

 Right: With Alistair McMurran (right) at the Mornington School reunion, Dunedin in 1991
Google Alistair McMurran and there are thousands of entries and in Wikipedia he figures in unlikely topics such as the history of Caversham. 

I was fortunate to go to athletic camps in the mid sixties at Karitane where Alistair and I would sit at the feet of the amazing Warrington Taylor, lawyer, humanitarian, anti war and nuclear campaigner, and would debate with him on topics ranging from humanity, nuclear disarmament and religion. See my blog on Warrington Taylor. Warrington, Elizabeth and their children Brian and Suzanne gave up their holiday home for a bunch of smelly athletes for many summers in the mid 1960s.

I also remember on a climbing trip up the Matukituki valley in 1967 after a successful ascent of Mt. Aspiring, meeting Ali McMurran and legendary John Campbell and some fellow athletes who had run 15 km up the valley almost to the snow line on Mt. Aspiring a training trip, and having a cup of tea with them, and then they ran back to their car.
Ali McMurran, Brian Taylor, Nev Cleveland and I used to run the 26 miles from Dunedin to Karitane where we held athletic camps.

While his name appears daily above newspaper stories, his work as a middle-distance running coach is more behind the scenes.
A disciple of the great Arthur Lydiard, he helped generations of athletes reach their potential. His greatest success story was Dick Tayler, whom he guided to Commonwealth Games gold in 1974.
He also coached Olympians Euan Robertson and John Campbell, Commonwealth athletes Stuart Melville and the late Chip Dunckley, and was the middle-distance coach of the New Zealand team at the Pan Pacific Games in Australia in 1977.
More recently, he coached New Zealand junior 10,000m record-holder Blair Martin and national 1500m champion Richard Olsen.

Ali McMurran was born in Lyttelton and educated at Mornington Primary School and Otago Boys High School.
A promising runner, he once defeated future Olympic medallist John Davies at high school and became Otago Boys cross-country champion.
Later, he won the Ness Cup mile race at the Caledonian Ground. McMurran could also wield a cricket bat, as an opener at both 1st XI and senior club level.

As our bible class teacher, he introduced us to the hills and mountains of Otago. I remember at a Bible class camp where 'Snowy Holland' was our cook, Ali took us up to summit of the Maungatuas. One weakness Ali had, was his direction finding. I remember on one of the many runs we did over the hills behind Dunedin getting lost, and Ali would scratch his head, clear his throat and say, " I think the track is over there," getting us deeper into the bush. He did some big trips into the mountains and I recall one with the late Garth Varcoe into the remote Ollivines.

The last time I met Ali was fittingly on the shores of Lake Manapouri, during the hure 7 day mountian race the 'Raid Galloiuse' in 1991. It was so good to sit with Ali on the lakeshore and discuss where our lives had been. He was diligently covering the race for the ODT. As the first team paddled down the Lake in the raft to finish, a lone piper played an eerie tune which roused the cockles of our Scot's hearts. Since then Chip Dunckley died, Brian Taylor killed in the Christchurch earthquake a few years back, Nev Cleveland survived a major cancer scare, and our ranks of runners from our group in the sixties, grown thin.



Ali McMurran  was honoured in 2008 with the Services to Sport award at the Otago Sports Awards dinner. The photo below is rare one of Ali wearing a suite, or was it borrowed for the night?

The Sparc-sponsored award has previously been won by, among others, Otago sporting greats Lois Muir, Duncan Laing, Charlie Saxton, Laurie Mains, Iain Gallaway and Dr Dave Gerrard.
World champion rower Hamish Bond was named the Otago Sportsperson of the Year. Wanaka-based freestyle Skier Jossi Wells (18) won the OtagoDaily Times-Class Act Junior Sportsperson of the Year award for the third successive year.
In giving the award it was said that McMurran has been an integral part of the Dunedin athletics scene since his school days and a prominent voice in the media since joining the ODT in 1975.
"Alistair has made an immeasurable contribution to sport, both within Otago and nationally, as a coach, mentor and sports journalist," Sport Otago chief executive John Brimble said.
McMurran's quiet manner, vast knowledge and determination to promote a range of sports have helped him carve out his reputation as an industrious and widely respected reporter.
Through four decades, he has been a devoted follower of club rugby.
He has also given blanket coverage to athletics, his first love, as well as bowls, rowing, swimming, croquet, multisport and others.
Brimble said McMurran had championed minor sports that might otherwise have been ignored.
"Alistair pioneered the focus on a range of sports and sportspeople that have benefited from the media exposure he has provided," he said.
"Some of the smaller sports received better coverage in the ODT than in any other major daily paper, thanks to McMurran's efforts."
McMurran is a former winner of the New Zealand sports journalist of the year award and is the only multiple (2004 and 2007) winner of the national bowls writer's award.
Outside sport, McMurran's great love is travel.

He is a member of the Travellers' Century Club, having visited more than 160 countries. 

Ali McMurran must be 70 plus today and I just found this article about him being rewarded with the honour of igniting the NZ  Masters’s games flame. Monday 6 February 2012 Otago Daily Times

After covering every Masters Games held in Dunedin, Otago Daily Times sports reporter Alistair McMurran was rewarded with the honour of igniting the games flame.
The flame was lit during the event's opening ceremony at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday and will burn throughout the event, which runs until Sunday.
Games manager Aaron Joy said the committee was unanimous in deciding to give Mr McMurran, who is covering the 11th Dunedin games, the honour.
"We really wanted to acknowledge the superb job that Alistair does in providing the games with news coverage. There are 70 sporting events at the games and Alistair works tirelessly over the 10 days to get to as many as he can. We believe he captures the very essence of the games."
Mr McMurran was passionate about the games because of the camaraderie and dedication of competitors, as well as the role it played in raising awareness of fitness and health in the community.
"I really enjoy the enthusiasm and energy of the competitors of all ages, particularly those in older age groups who are an inspiration to us all.
"I think the Government should help fund the Masters Games as a preventive measure which could translate into savings for the country's health budget."
Mr McMurran, who joined the ODT in 1975, was a keen sportsman and coached many notable New Zealand long-distance runners including Dick Tayler, who won gold in the 10,000m race at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974, Euan Robertson, who was sixth in the 3000m steeplechase at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, and John Campbell, who finished 12th in the marathon at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Tayler, who was at the Masters Games for the seventh time as an ambassador, said of Mr McMurran: "Arthur Lydiard always said to me that he got the credit but that Ali had done the work." So to you Alistair McMurran, my mentor, coach, teacher and friend, I wish you every success for the future and never forget the teachings you gave to many of your disciples, who have done well in their lives.


12 comments:

James Williamson said...

A fitting tribute to a great human being.

Anonymous said...

Great article Bob. The times with Ali were very educational and he always gave time to any person that wanted advice and debate . Well done . Nev

Bob Mckerrow said...

Thanks Jim and Nev. Ali is a wonderful human being and let's celebrate that.

Anonymous said...

I am very happy to say that Ali has been a neighbour of mine for around six years. Helpful genuine, humble, capable....a bit of an all round legend in these parts, and for all the right reasons. Thanks for posting this Bob.

Bob Mckerrow said...

Thanks Anonymous. This is what I would have expected to hear from a neighbour. When he taught me at Bible class Ali used to speak so genuinely about helping our neighbours.

Anonymous said...

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WT2011 said...

Hi Bob, this is a brilliant piece about Ali. I would have nothing more to say about the man ...you have said it all. I feel lucky to have had the chance to have known him - he instilled a love of running that was priceless.

Great Work

kelvin Broad

Colin Livingstone said...

Ali McMurran is one of the great Kiwi coaches. I remember meeting him briefly when I was a teenager in Dunedin.A genius and true gentleman.

A great tribute,much appreciated.

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