• Distance Culture

The Story Of Distance Culture

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

By Michael Whiting

ON A brisk October morning in 2019, Rob Collins would attempt to tick off a huge goal in his running career, by trying to break 2.30 for the first time at the Amsterdam Marathon.

Rob had been part of our Brisbane-based training squad for over four years before heading to London in late 2017 with his girlfriend Claire to work and explore the world.

His running career took off (that story will be told by him at a later date).

He agonisingly missed breaking 2.30 by a handful of seconds at the London Marathon just six months earlier. Amsterdam would provide a chance for redemption.

Although he hadn't trained in Brisbane for more than two years – and there were some new faces in the group – Rob was still "one of us".

On that morning in the Netherlands' capital, Claire would be joined by long-time mates Grant Williams and Jamie Laverty, who would stand roadside to cheer him on (before competing in their own events later in the day).

The quartet had spent the previous two weeks in the Swiss altitude haven of St Moritz to help Rob prepare for his shot at breaking the big barrier.

On the other side of the world, a group of us would be gathered around televisions (the race was broadcast on Eurosport) and laptops to get live splits.

The group chat was set up.

As the 5k splits rolled by, Chris Waters, Daryl Crook, Nathan McLachlan, Charles Chambers, Shaun Lee and myself would ping messages off about Rob's progress.

Nick and Brandon Dewar would chime in from their new home in London. There was a lot of eyes on how the boy from the Sunny Coast was doing.

Grant messaged a couple of videos live from the course.

We knew Rob would be fine until 35km, but then the fun would begin. He drifted a couple of times and all of us were doing the maths on what he needed to run over the final kilometres to break 2.30. A couple of 3.45s would get him home. He was slightly fading. Would he get there?

Of course he did. Unlike London, there was no stopping him this time. Rob crushed it, stopping the clock at 2.29.22 – a PB and lifelong goal achieved. Our group chat went crazy, with virtual screaming and high fives all over the place.

Everyone in that chat knew the work he had put in and everyone was proud of him.

To some, this would seem a common anecdote, but to me – a mate and coach (not at that particular time) – it summed up our squad perfectly.

All in, all the time. For yourself and for your mates.

Distance Culture was only formally named in late 2019 but the essence of it had been built over the previous decade, from the moment I teamed up with Daryl Crook in 2008 as we both floundered looking for someone to train with.

Eleven years on and we have a group that trains well together, has fun together and cares about each other, which is truly beyond my wildest dreams when I stumbled into coaching "Crooky" all those years ago.

Here's a very brief history on how we've evolved.

In the beginning

The squad – if that's what you call a group of two – began with Crooky and I training together. He was 20 and I was 31, but at that stage of our running lives, we were a good training match.

By 2009, Crooky was progressing and going past me, and the year after that – now that he'd given up soccer as his primary focus – he was dropping me regularly.

I suffered a chronic case of hamstring tendinitis late in 2010, which turned out to be a blessing. I was past my best as a runner (at my preferred shorter distances at least) and it allowed me time to focus on helping Crooky, so I went and began the process of getting coaching accreditation through Queensland Athletics – level 1, level 2 and eventually level 2 advanced as a distance coach.

Crooky was doing some great things. He medaled as a national 3000m steeplechaser, three times, ran a blistering 8.48 in that event in 2012 - which at the time was top-50 in Australia all-time, and was a regular medalist at Queensland Cross Country Championships.

Some of his competitors were starting to notice the improvement.

Along comes the Hammer

Crooky's progress brought Tom Kennedy – who moved on after a few months – and Matt Carlsson along to double our group from two to four.

That's when I'd say the squad was truly formed.

At the time (2011), Matt was a gangly 19-year-old who had a little bit of ability but was getting crunched by Crook and TK in almost every session.

He was determined though. Unflappable.

Matt improved quickly as well, winning a bronze at the 2012 Queensland 3000m championships and shoving his nose into most races he competed in.

Suddenly we had two runners that were always at the pointy end of every track, road and cross country race in Queensland.

Creating our culture

Those results drew the attention of Jamie, Grant, Jay Twist, Harley Logan and Drew Williams who all followed suit within the next 12 months and joined our burgeoning squad.

It started as a bunch of mates training together with a bit of guidance from a coach learning on the go.

The one thing we always had was a good culture.

That word is bandied about a lot in sport, and hard to define. This might be an individual sport, but these early days were the start of us forming that team atmosphere.

We had – and still have – an unofficial "no dickhead" policy. Everyone is welcome to join, but it quickly becomes obvious who fits in and who doesn't. We never wanted egos to dominate the group.

The boys all had fun and progressed as runners. You can read about their PBs and achievements in their personal biographies on the website, but we certainly had a strong semi-elite squad.

Rob joined in 2013 and Shaun moved to Brisbane to attend the University of Queensland – our home training base – in 2014 and also linked with us.

Drew had met Irish school teacher Chris Bracken in his time in Gladstone, and when 'Bracko' came south in 2015, he added a tough edge to the group with his no-nonsense, front-running attitude that immediately had everyone on-side.

Likewise, 'Team Dewar', Nick and Brandon, came onboard at the same time and were instantly embraced. The boys embody the fabric of our squad, turning up every day, grinding, but also having a laugh and really caring for the success of their mates on and off the track.

Whether it was 400s at UQ on a Tuesday night, hill repeats at Griffith University, threshold around the UQ campus, there was always plenty of light-hearted banter from a mix of guys that studied and worked and had running as a common passion.

The squad fills out

Chris Waters also joined us in 2015, reviving a passion for running that had seen him compete as a junior but take a huge hiatus to establish his career and family life.

Our numbers were booming.

Charles came north from the Gold Coast as his studies and eventual job brought him to Brisbane, while Aaron Breed, Kat Smyrneos, Nathan McLachlan, Liam Woollett, Liam Henderson, Artem Pilipchuk and our youngest member Riley Borthwick all linked up in the past two years.

We now have runners that compete in every distance from the 800m (thanks Riley) to the marathon.

We always toyed with the idea of giving the group a formal name, but were happy just training together and being aligned to respective clubs around Brisbane.

But as other groups like ours – Jackson Elliott's Gold Coast Run Co and Peter Bracken's BERT most notably – got their act together, we thought it was silly to not follow suit.

With the creativity of Jee Ming Leung and Jamie, we finally settled on a name and singlet design late in 2019 and signed on with QRun to formalise our club.

We train on Tuesday nights at UQ and Saturday morning at various locations, so if you're keen to join the semi-elite part of our squad or want some online coaching guidance from yours truly, please have a look around the website and get in touch.

Distance Culture is all about making the sport of running better in south-east Queensland, from the top level all the way to having fun at your local parkrun every week.

Train hard, train smart and have fun.

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