- October 10, 2006 at 11:45 pm #5630
Hammering home the concept yet again:
October 10, 2006
A visitor stopping by the Walnut Brewery last week might have thought she was transported back to Boulder circa 1984. Sitting in a back room at the local pub were runners such as Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes, Don Janicki, and Brent Friesth, a stack of empty pints glasses in front of them.
It was the Boulder Road Runners monthly social hour, but it was more than a regular get-together for these runners, all elites back in the mid-1980s. They, and the rest of the scores of others who showed up for the evening, came to remember Dave Welch, the former Boulder coach who passed away Sept. 22 just after finishing a bicycling tour in Elois, France.
Road Runners head Rich Castro had asked those who knew Welch to show up to drink a pint in his honor and to sign a remembrance book that was sent to Welch's wife, Priscilla, one of the best masters runners and one of Boulder's most inspirational runners ever.
The Welches moved to town just after the 1984 Olympic marathon, where Priscilla, then 39, placed sixth. Dave and Priscilla represented a kind of golden age of Boulder's running past. They were key parts of the second generation of world-class athletes (triathletes such as Colleen Cannon and Scott Molina, and cyclists like Connie Carpenter included) who came to town following the footsteps of Frank Shorter, Ric Rojas, Stan Mavis, and Herb Lindsay in the 1970s.
Like his friend, New Zealand icon Arthur Lydiard, Welch was far ahead of his time, a zealot for nutrition, proper training and tough competition, but all the while knowing how to relax with a beer or two or three.
All those qualities (except the beer drinking) were embodied in Priscilla Welch, a spunky, cheerful woman who did not let a late start in athletics prevent her from becoming one of the top marathoners in the world while living in Boulder. Hers is a remarkable story, and the Welch's a remarkable partnership, with each as well-suited to the other as left and right running shoes in a matching pair.
There is much to Priscilla's story, and many magazine articles have been written about her, but the basic outline is as follows: At age 35, she was a self-proclaimed “couch potato,” a smoker and partier, serving in the British Navy in Oslo, Norway. There she met Dave, and her life changed.
From one-mile walks and jogs, she progressed patiently under Dave's system within four years to set the British marathon record at the Olympics. Then, at 42, she won the New York City open division, and went on to clock 2:26:51 at the London Marathon, still the masters' record.
Then, while at the top of career and still competing at the international level, Priscilla was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery, becoming a role model for multitudes of women with her positive approach to life.
Through it all, Dave Welch was at her side. He was one of those special guys you come across in life; tough as a British Army officer can be, but with a kind heart and a soft spot for any runner willing to put in the commitment to training.
“David was a coach who believed in what he did — hard work,” Castro says.
There is much to the Welch method, but the lesson to take away from his training is that it is a mistake to time all your runs. Rather, he explained when I chatted with him once for a chapter in a book, “We think of it in terms of the development of energy systems and duration and intensity, with feedback mechanisms built into the program.”
He went on: “I always tell coaches that 'Cilla went two years running marathons in the 2:55-3:10 range, yo-yoing back and forth. People don't know about that. It was just sheer damn perseverance by Priscilla. Once she got through the barrier, she kept improving, from 2:59 to 2:56 to 2:36 to 2:32 to 2:29 to 2:26. It was the process of all those marathons she did that got her stronger and stronger. They gave her the base strength to produce the time she did later on.”
And what can those training for marathons today take away from Welch?
“I tell people to this day that what you do is directly proportional to the amount and quality of your base training,” he told me. “And by quality, I don't mean speed.”
When the Welches were living in north Boulder, their neighbors within a 200-meter radius included Jones, Rob de Castella, Arturo Barrios, and Ingrid Kristiansen. While those runners might have run faster and set more records than Priscilla, perhaps none had as much fun or as many friends as these quintessential Boulder runners. And few couples, runners or non-runners, had a relationship as deep and fulfilling as that of Dave and Priscilla Welch.
E-mail: [email protected]
- October 11, 2006 at 5:26 pm #21774
A very good article about a great member of the running community. Thanks for posting. His words, especially those which you highlighted, were very succinct and accurate summations of the keys to successful distance running.
- October 14, 2006 at 6:40 pm #21775
Your Diarist first encountered the Sergeant Major at the Cascade Run Off. He was an engaging chap with the body of a wrestler, the nose of a semi-successful boxer, and a pair of ears not dissimilar to bent rear-view mirrors. He possessed that unique combination of being a good listener, but an even better talker. He was self-educated British, and that meant a wicked wit in contrast to a curiosity for just how almost any form of human endeavor could be done better. David Welch a long time ago retired from the British Army, but not without meeting his singular life’s companion, Priscilla. ‘Cilla the Killa,’ as some who knew her well called her, is even more animated than Dave ever was. But she was wise enough, she said, that “I do the running and he does the talking.” Early on Dave spotted something unusual in Priscilla, even though she was already middle-aged and hadn’t really run much more than to the corner shop. The Sarge was a master at working with anyone who shared the belief that between the two of them, performance could be dramatically improved, whether in the arena of athletic performance, or later through that of physical rehabilitation. Dave Welch mentored Priscilla to the point where at age 39 she finished 6th just behind Lorraine Moller in the inaugural 1984 Olympic women’s marathon, then at age 42 won the New York City Marathon. But even more phenomenal was the pair’s collaboration for the London Marathon, in which 1987 race at the age of 43 Priscilla stunned with a 2:26:51 British record. Dave pushed on to study massage therapy and to specialize in neuro-muscular therapy, while Priscilla continued to light the masters records books ablaze. All the while Dave Welch had the je ne sais quoi of British lads that permit those even with stocky bodies as youngsters to run in the low 30s for 10 kilometers. Later he still trained as if he were one of the luminaries with whom he socialized during the Wonderland Hills Days in Boulder, when Rob de Castella, Ingrid Kristiansen, Arturo Barrios, the Welch’s, Steve Jones, Jacqueline Gareau, and Ria van Landeghem all lived within a one-square mile area. There was never a dull moment in the company of Dave and Priscilla Welch, yet Dave continued to hone his abilities not only to help refine Priscilla’s accomplishments, but also to repair those who had broken down in trying to reach cutting edge levels of international competition.
After things finally slowed for Priscilla, the pair moved up to Tabernash, near Winter Park in the high country of Colorado. When Dave had breathing problems, they relocated to Bend, Oregon, around which Dave continued his training with a vengeance, and his practice of neuro-muscular therapy with the same assiduousness that more often than not performs recovery miracles. Although his knees did not permit him to run much anymore, the Sergeant Major continued to pursue bicycling, cross country skiiing, canoeing, swimming and almost anything that would keep someone in his 50s and then 60s moving…Recently Dave accompanied a group of his fellow Bend residents to Switzerland to road bike the Alps. He was to return home Tuesday of this week, while the following day Priscilla was to travel to England, to be the ‘mystery guest’ for the Ranelagh Harriers 100th anniversary. Unfortunately for both the Welch’s, Dave was to find his journey at an end in Switzerland. “He was at breakfast at approx 8.55a their time, and had mentioned that he was going for an easy ride, so he would not catch anything on the plane home,” Priscilla would write by e-mail, “then he immediately held his head and died. There were plenty in the tour group with medical expertise, and they and others could not bring him back. Don’t know what the autopsy will say—the guys there said it was a disturbance in the rhythm of his heart, but,if that was so, he would have been clutching the chest. His heart was strong—(he) had (had) recent tests. I suspect an aneurysm. Anyway it was very quick—he did not feel a thing.” Dave Welch always continued his pursuit of excellence, whether while whipping his own body through determined physical training or while manipulating the bodies of others to get them back out on the roads, trails and waterways. “I got the best massages of my life from Dave Welch,” says Kirsten Kindt, a former University of Colorado and Mountain West Track Club standout. “And not just because he was strong. His personality was one of the best.” Perhaps Dave Welch’s most memorable trait was that very ability to instill confidence in those he trained or upon whom he worked. The Englishman did everything with élan, always striving to become that much better and knowledgeable in the realm of human performance. “I guess he went out the way he wanted to do, doing something he loved,” said Scotsman Jim McLatchie, a pal of Dave’s in Bend, as well as the current coach of Max King and many others over the years. “…Some of the workouts he was doing I wouldn’t attempt them. On his bike 10 minutes up the wall…Dave did everything a hundred miles per hour. Cross country skiing, biking. He had the never-say-die effort in whatever sport you do.” Dave passed on this last Friday in Switzerland, but not without making an enormous contribution to the sport of long distance running…For now, Priscilla says plans for a service have yet to be firmed up until she see’s when Dave’s son is able assist returning his father to Oregon. “It’s possible he will have a memorial,” writes Priscilla. “He will be cremated and his ashes tossed all over the XC Ski area of Mt. Batchelor…At the moment this bloody house is so empty, despite having a lab dog and an eight-week-old frisky female ranch abandoned kitten, but, the kitten and the dog are helping….What am I going to do Paul??? Guess the answers will come in a while. He made me what I am; yesterday and today, but, what of tomorrow. I’m kind of hollow. We had such an adventure; interludes and interviews which kept us on a high, but, we had to wave family goodbye and accept many challenges; me, tapping into his forever positiveness, and learning to grow. Now he leaves me here in Oregon to grow even further, but, it is not going to be much fun without him. Finally I have to grow up.” Still Priscilla says Dave passed on doing what he loved best: “Dave has left this planet the way he would have wanted to—fast. He was a man of action right to the end—maybe too much so. Often very disappointed in me, when I did not exercise, constantly telling me that I had to go out soon in order to remain healthy, etc etc. Sometimes it was like a recording and fell on my deaf ears. There was a lot of truth there of course, but, I was happy at the time, with plenty to occupy me without going into overload. Dave was passionately fond of road biking, soccer, and his team Manchester City, plus skiing, and had recently taken up time trialling on his special road bike. He was very fit and strong; always pushing his body and mind to the limits—steam coming out of all orifices, so to speak—having a job to spell REST, as usual, and a typical Aries and product of Boarding School and Army. He had plans to be the top in his age group time trialling—gradually winding down his business, but, continuing to work with a much smaller clientelle. We will not grow old together as planned. Instead I have huge decisions to make in the future, but, for now I have to try and fill the void that he has left here. His tour group is hugely traumatised—he had a great time over there with them; they were very fond of him. It was at the very end of the tour when it happened; eating breakfast then boom! All over in ten seconds apparently. Plenty of medical expertise who couldn’t bring him back. WOW!…Carol and Jim McLatchie are a great support—here’s hoping tomorrow is a better day, for I am tired. I cannot sleep and do not want to sleep, ‘cos he is not here…” Perhaps Carol McLatchie, the former USATF Women’s LDR Chairperson, well expresses some thoughts about a couple from Britain who turned the running world upside down on many an occasion: “Think good thoughts for Priscilla. I know she will be very lost without her husband, Dave. Though he sure did not mess around when he decided to go out with “a bang doing what he enjoyed in life!”
- October 18, 2006 at 4:20 pm #21776
Rest in Peace, Dave Welch. I met him a couple times. A most personable and generous soul.
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