Former Grimsby Harrier Royle reigned over the world's best
Louth resident, former Grimsby schoolboy and ex-Grimsby Harrier Adrian Royle was – for a spell – a world-beating talent. Here, Deputy Sports Editor TREVOR GREEN gets inside the mind of a running star
WHEN Adrian Royle first started running as an 11-year-old boy, he never in his wildest dreams imagined himself one day going shoulder to shoulder with the some of the best endurance athletes on the planet.
But the small Wintringham School pupil always had the kind of work ethic and single-mindedness that any great success on the biggest stage requires.
A raw fitness built up from being an extremely active teenager – a trait somewhat lacking in generations to follow – coupled with surrounding himself with right people also contributed to his success.
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Born in Manchester, Royle moved to Grimsby when he was young, and it was here that his passion for competition began.
He recalled: "I first started running during my time at Wintringham School. I was in the same class as Tony Ford. He went on to play football for Grimsby Town, I went on to be a runner.
"It was more of a football and cricket school at the time, running was seen as a bit of a punishment.
"I was very small as an 11-year-old. I progressed, and by the time I was 16, I was beating the guys who were good at all sports.
"I was into many outdoor things at that time, not just running. I loved bird watching and cycling.
"My teacher, Mike Hobden, kept asking me to do races. I would say 'I'm going bird watching', or 'I'm going cycling', but he kept at it, and eventually I did a race and won it.
"Then I did a few more, and won them too.
"In 1976/77, I joined Grimsby Harriers. I progressed very quickly. I did local and regional races on the track and cross country. I did okay for a rookie."
His days as a teenager at Grimsby Harriers gave Royle an early taste of proper, structured training.
He explained: "Mick Hall was there the first time I went to Grimsby Harriers and he took me under his wing.
"He introduced me to training techniques and self-discipline – although I already had plenty of that.
"It gave me a good head-start. He was a very important figure in my formative years.
"He took me to races and helped out a lot."
After the input of Hall – who died last May – another key moment arrived in Royle's athletics career.
Although he suffered the disappointment of losing his job, there was to be a silver lining.
"I lost my job in Grimsby and moved back to Manchester for a couple of years," recalled Royle.
"The standard was higher – there were world record holders and internationals everywhere.
"Among them was Ricky Wilde, a former world indoor 3,000m record holder."
Royle then made a decision that would eventually help catapult himself from good-standard runner to world-beating athlete.
He explained: "I went over to the United States when I was 21.
"That's where it all happened for me. It is where I run all my best races.
"I was unheard of in this country, and probably still am, but I did well in America.
"I started off at a college in Idaho. It was not one of the biggest or best places, but was my way in.
"It was a place I wanted to go. There are lots of wide open spaces with national parks and trails.
"I later went out to Reno in Nevada, which is at high altitude. It a was fantastic training place. It is underrated and relatively unknown.
"I think it is better than places like Boulder, Colorado.
"It was perfect for me. It was dry, with sunshine 360 days a year.
"I used to run twice a day – 132 miles a week at my peak. My average over the course of a whole year was 85-89 miles a week.
"In my best year, I had just nine days off running.
"I used to do lots of hill work and cross country. People talk about experiencing a natural high – I certainly had that.
"I was up in the mountains, on soft trails, running slightly downhill. I was flying.
"Cross country in America is very different to cross country in England. It is run on golf courses. You don't get the mud there like you do here. It is like running on a snooker table.
"I have run cross countries in the mud at Grimsby's Weelsby Woods – and it is completely different.
"To be honest, I preferred the US cross country. It suited my style.
"My first big win was in the National College Cross Country Championships. I won it by a country mile."
After impressing in his early races in the States, Royle rocked the world of distance running with a sensational victory in the US National Senior Cross Country Championships.
He took apart a stellar field of world class athletes which included fellow Brit Nick Rose, top Kenyan Henry Rono and American Alberto Salazar – who had set a world best 2:08.13 for the marathon five weeks previously.
Royle has vivid memories of that day back in 1981 in Burbank, California.
He said: "The big turning point for me was when I won the National Senior Cross Country Championships against some of the best runners in the world.
"Before that time my aim was to run a sub four-minute mile.
"I got close – I ran four minutes and three tenths in San Jose. That was frustrating!
"But after the US Cross win, I concentrated on 5,000m and 10,000m running.
"I travelled to LA with the sole purpose of winning the race.
"It had been hammering it down with rain the previous day, but eased off for the race.
"It was an absolutely loaded field. We went off like a rocket up the first hill, before sweeping down on a gravel track.
"I had never gone off so fast in my life.
"I kept going, and was up towards the front with guys like Nick Rose and Alberto Salazar. Rose, from Bristol, was one of the first to go over to the States and be successful.
"The course was up and down, and wet – but the great thing for me was that it was firm underfoot.
"I was used to the hills. You don't get used to them growing up in Grimsby, but I ran up them all the time in America.
"I knew Salazar was good – but I also knew his weakness. He had no speed, no real finishing speed whatsoever. Salazar killed people in the middle of races.
"I knew if I could hurt him on the hills and just stick with him, I could beat him.
"I stayed with him, gradually picked it up over the last half mile and then just pressed the button.
"Winning was a big thing for me. It cost me a lot – I paid for the flights and accommodation at a time when I did not have much money. It was a gamble, but one that paid off."
The triumph is what Royle is best known for, but he went on to turn in a string of performances which rank in the very highest bracket.
He said: "I did some track races which I rank alongside the US Cross triumph.
"I ran in the dark in LA on the track against world class athletes and won. This was at the MtSAC relays. It was a phenomenal standard.
"I won twice there. The first was in a 5,000m race in 1982.
"The Tanzanian, Suleiman Nyambui was expected to win. He was a 3.50-minute miler.
"But my finishing speed was enough and I won it in 13.26."
"I also won a 10,000m race there. The field was stuffed with top Americans and Africans.
"I was still up there going into the last lap and Henry Rono – multiple record holder and one of the best athletes of all time – was on the inside of the track encouraging me.
"He had dropped out of the race and was there telling me to relax and cheering me on.
"Everyone gathered at the front of the field, I dropped back slightly to makes some space, before attacking. I won that one in 27.55.
"I missed out on going to the World Championships by a fraction after that. They took some other guys instead.
"I wasn't that bitter. What motivated me was running against the best. I loved racing against the best Africans. They were great guys to run with and be around."
Royle's personal bests, such as of 27.47 for the 10,000m, would be hugely impressive if set by a domestic runner today, and were at the top end of the world scale even in the golden age of British endurance running.
But a mystery illness wiped him out – and although still a formidable athlete – Royle was never quite the same again.
He recalled: "I returned to the UK in 1983 after I had been ill for 18 months.
"I have no idea what it was. But I went from beating the top Africans in the world to not being able to walk around the block.
"I joined Loughborough and trained with George Gandy's group. I had a few decent runs, but I was never the same.
"I later joined Charnwood, before retiring in 1988.
"My last race was at the Lincoln Half Marathon. I came fourth in 65.23. I thought that was rubbish. Especially as my best time over 20K was 58.38 – the second fastest 20K ever. It was mostly off-road too. That was in Malibu at the Lasse Viren Invitational.
"Towards the end of my career I ran the Tipton 10-mile in 1987 and came fourth in 47.55."
With the benefit of hindsight, Royle admits that he would do things differently if he was to have his time running again.
He explained: "After winning the US National Cross Country, I almost ran out of things to do.
"I needed a target. I got lost and drifted from race to race. My performances went down.
"I should have selected the races I wanted to do and peaked specifically for them."
Royle puts the secret to his success primarily down to his training.
"It's down to hard training and dedication," he said.
"If you want to be the best you can't be half-hearted. You have got to give everything.
"It was a case of run, eat, sleep, run. It is a great life but you have to do the work. It does not just happen automatically.
"You also need to be around confident people. It rubs off."
Royle is uncompromising when talking about today's standards and their root cause.
The former Grimsby schoolboy lashed out at today's school system – one he believes rewards underachievers and holds back true talent.
He blasted: "People in general are lazy now.
"Standards have dropped to a point where what is good now would have been met with 'pull your finger out' 30 years ago.
"Things are rigged at school so that no-one looks bad. You are not allowed to be elite. You have to be average so nobody is seen to be bad.
"Talented youngsters now have to break through all the mediocrity.
"Runners don't have the background as kids as we used to have as schoolboys. Parents drive their children to school now.
"I used to go on 75-mile bike rides on a Saturday or Sunday when I was a 15-year-old.
"Children now, their muscles do not have a chance to develop and their cardiovascular systems are very weak.
"Jogging has also taken over, which I hate. It is light years away from running. Even if you are a slow runner it is better than being a jogger, at least there is still a competitive element.
"My advice to young people would be to go and train at altitude, go to America. It makes a huge difference.
"Unless you are a natural, you won't be great if you don't.
"I used to beat the best Africans – so it is possible."
For an extract from Royle's training diary, plus pictures past and present, see the feature in today's Grimsby Telegraph.