Recently crowned men’s U20 national 3000m champion, Liam Lamb is a gifted teenage endurance runner set for a promising future. Steve Landells profiles the 18-year-old from the Wairarapa to find out more about his career so far.
In many respects there is a beautiful simplicity to Liam Lamb’s journey to banking the national U20 3000m title in Wanganui earlier this month. It was a triumph, grounded in hard-work, planning and clever nurturing by his coach Mark Harris with a friend and fellow athlete providing the final piece of the puzzle by selflessly taking on the pace. The result? A gold medal, a massive new PB of 8:24.79 and a huge wave of confidence for the 18-year-old with a bright future in the sport.
Born and raised in Wellington, Liam was a talented footballer as a Hutt International Boys’ School student and ran cross country to supplement his fitness, of which he showed real promise. As a year nine student, he secured the regional cross country title, but after his family relocated to live in Masterton four years ago, he quit running.
“I didn’t take the sport too seriously (back then) and the main goal was to have fun,” he explains. “So I took a break from running because I felt it wasn’t really going anywhere.”
Yet after finding his fitness begin to slide as a year 11 student at Wairarapa College, he re-engaged with running and the passion quickly re-ignited.
“I ran every day for a week and realised I'd missed running,” Liam explains. “It made me feel good. I was addicted once again.”
Initially guided by Wellington-based coach Don Dalgliesh, he re-started training and began competing once again, finishing 19th in road race at the 2017 New Zealand Secondary Championships in Hastings. However feeling he needed a local coach, he connected with Masterton-based Mark Harris in early 2018, a move which proved critical for Liam’s development. Mark has adopted a sensible approach to Liam’s training. Initially introducing a light 30km per week programme over the past two years, he has gradually increased the workload and earlier this month Liam completed his first two 100km training weeks.
“Mark has been amazing,” explains Liam, who now competes for Wairarapa Track and Field. “I’m part of a small training group of very good athletes, and we are like a family. We are all there for each other.”
Liam made significant progress during the 2018-19 domestic season. He was “pleased” to place 11th in the 3000m final, in a PB of 8:54.15 at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Dunedin. Then last March, he claimed his first medal on the national stage, when he won U20 5000m bronze (15:52.55) at the New Zealand Championships in Christchurch with a huge breakthrough performance.
“I was very happy to have medalled. I knew because the pace was slow that if I could hold on for the last lap, I’d have a shot (at a medal),” he recalls. “It meant a lot to medal at a national event, it felt like all the hard work I’d put in, and the patience my coach and I had shown, by gradually increasing the mileage had paid off. It gave me so much confidence because I now felt I could compete with the top guys.”
Training up to seven sessions a week, Liam enjoyed a solid cross country campaign which climaxed with an exciting international opportunity. Despite suffering an untimely bout of sickness in the countdown to the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in Timaru, he placed a solid 14th. Then in the U20 race at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Upper Hutt, he took 12th spot, before earning selection to compete for his country at the Australian Championships in Wollongong.
“It was probably the best thing to happen to me so far (in my athletics career), I was so ecstatic,” he recalls of the memory. “It was a huge opportunity.”
Competing in hot conditions of around 24 degrees and over the 8km distance for only the second time, Liam placed a solid 23rd and was satisfied with his performance.
“Considering how hot it was, and at that time I was only training around 60-70km a week, I was really happy,” he explains.
Stepping up his training load, which now includes long runs of up to 90 minutes, he stepped up his preparations for the 2019-20 summer campaign. Training with the goal of running an 8:30 3000m, he suffered a slight setback, despite posting a PB of 8:52.61, when placing sixth in the senior boys 3000m final at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Wellington last month.
“I was a little disappointed and preparation wasn’t very good on the day,” explains Liam. “There was an incident on the track which delayed the final and it was very windy. I just don’t think I had the strength to go with the top guys.”
Liam bounced back with a solid run to place fourth in the Sir John Walker Invitational Mile in 4:18.78 in Auckland before he focused his efforts on national U20 3000m race in Wanganui. His preparation went well but Liam freely admits a key element in his success in the day, was cooked up during a pre-race conversation with his friend and fellow Wellington centre athlete Will Anthony.
“He said to me, ‘we are used to running the 3k but we don’t have the speed compared to Liam Back, who is a 1:53 800m runner. Why don’t I take it out at the beginning to try and tire them out?’ I said ‘I’ll stick on you’. He stuck to his plan, going through the first 400m in 63 seconds and the first 1km in 2:45. Although, I changed my plan and sat at the back of the pack. With two laps to go I started to feel really good and moved up to third to get myself in a good position to attack on the final lap.”
Unleashing his winning move by galloping past the long-time leader with 300m to go, Liam sped to the gold medal, in an impressive PB of 8:24.79 and delivered his maiden national title. Elated with the achievement and surprised at the time he ran, he nonetheless fully acknowledges the key role Will, the silver medallist, played in his success at Cooks Gardens.
“He deserves a lot of credit, he was the reason not only me, but so many people (the first seven finishers) set PBs that day,” says Liam. “He was very pleased with himself to set a 12-second PB and it was cool Wellington was able to go one-two in a national event.”
Describing himself as “disciplined” with good speed and an ability to be “quite coachable”, Liam appears to have many of the skills to progress in the sport. Likely to accept an athletics scholarship in the US later this year, in the shorter-term he is targeting a medal at the U20 5000m race, at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Christchurch. However whatever happens in the future, Liam cannot envisage a life without running.
Liam explain “I love how the sport allows me to meet so many people and establish lifelong memories. I feel so good when I complete a workout – it make me feel so great.”