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Les Barker – long-distance runner

Posted by SC Comments Off on Les Barker – long-distance runner

I can remember when driving out to Piha we would sometimes pass Les Barker striding out on the Piha Road. Fitness fanatic Les used to run to Piha from the city where he managed a bank in Newton. He bought the furthest possible section at North Piha to build his bach so as to make his runs as long as possible.

Sometimes cheeky beggars driving the road would throw rotten tomatoes at Les as they plowed past.

What’s more he did it with a pipe. At the end of his life his teeth were worn down from hanging onto that pipe, but he insisted smoking did him no harm and who could argue with his track record?

Les is credited with introducing the long-distance running training that became the successful methodology of Arthur Lydiard, leading to a generation of internationally successful middle and long-distance runners. He trained Arthur and was a celebrated trainer of athletes. Les’s prefered races were marathons and steeple-chases.

Les, however, was himself born with a hole-in-the-heart and had to carry a medical certificate to athletics events to convince race organisers he was fit to run.

He started running at the age of eight, and reckons he had clocked up 217,000 kms by the age of 74.

Not surprisingly he ran in the Waitakeres and would challenge his Piha neighbours to runs to Karekare and back. When he retired to Piha, a 15 km run through the tracks around Piha was his daily goal.

Les (Leslie Cecil) was born in Waihi to Beatrice and Thomas Barker, his father was a mine engineer. At 23, he married Estelle Beatrice Maud McAven and the couple had three children: Dawn, Lesley and Michael. He died at his Piha house on 13 June 1980, aged 76.

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