June 19, 1927 - January 1, 2012
The term "legend" is banded around all too regularly nowadays. For Frank Horwill it is an understatement.
I first met Frank in the year 2000 when I turned up to Battersea track to do a training session and stumbled across the man who would be my coach for the next 7 years, three times a week, without asking for anything in return. Our Saturday sessions were two hour long affairs which involved all manner of exercises - leapfrogging, piggybacking, uphill hopping - and invariably in my case a recovery nap afterwards but it was not uncommon for up to 50 athletes to turn up to these sessions and to travel up to two hours to be part of them. I often wondered what the people sat in their cars in the traffic jams on the Embankment thought as 25 or so shirtless guys would fly by at 5 minute mile pace. They must have wondered who we were running from. Truth is, it was all about who we were running FOR.
Frank's athletes quickly learned not to bother asking how many repetitions we were doing or what the recovery was (the response was invariably "enough time for a cup of tea and a bun"). He never gave anything away about the suffering to come because he never wanted us to hold back. I remember one session of 25 x 400m with 30 seconds recovery. We all assumed we would be doing our usual 16 repetitions but when we had given our all on the 16th, we received a sharp "keep going". Same comment after the 20th. There was relief all round when he stopped us at 25 but had he asked us to keep going, we would have. I once asked him to autograph my copy of the book he had authored ("A Lifetime in Athletics") and he wrote in it "Keep going, keep going, until a little voice in your head says 'keep going'".
Frank formed the British Milers Club and created the training system which Peter Coe used to coach his son, Seb, to Olympic glory. He coached Olympic athletes and plodders with the same enthusiasm and only ever asked his athletes to give him one thing - everything. And we did. Because he did.
Well-known in South Africa as "Sir Frank", he finally received the long-overdue recognition he deserved with an MBE in 2010.
Frank's desire to drop our PBs was only matched by his desire to see us pair up. He saw himself as a bit of a match maker. And he was good at it!
Unafraid to create enemies in the establishment with his brutal honesty, he was loved unwaveringly by every one of his athletes. You will be greatly missed, Comrade.