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Obituary: Bruce Tulloh (CR 1973-94)

BRUCE Tulloh (CR 1973-94) Born 29th September, 1935; died of cancer 28th April, 2018, aged 82.

When Bruce Tulloh arrived at Marlborough in 1973 he was already a legend. He was the man who, running bare-foot, had won the European Championship 5000 metres in Belgrade in 1962 and who, in 1969, had broken the record for running from Los Angeles to New York by almost 9 days. This feat he did not achieve, as some have believed, bare-foot; indeed his ankles were so swollen by the time he reached the Arizona mountains that he was forced to resort to wearing miner’s boots stuffed with bandages, at first managing to average only 1.5 mph.

In fact Bruce should never have come to Marlborough at all. While teaching in Kenya, he had sought the advice of fellow gold medalist, David Hemery, as to whether he should apply to Millfield or Marlborough. Hemery strongly recommended Millfield, but put insufficient stamps on the envelope and by the time his letter arrived by sea round the Cape, Roger Ellis had already appointed Bruce to Marlborough.

A legendary athlete Bruce might be, but he was also a man of many parts: he could carve an excellent sonnet; he could read history and science with almost the relish he reserved for the novels of Patrick O’Brian; he could discuss any aspect of media interest; his taste for music was catholic and while small talk was not his forte, he could stun with sudden humour, pith or wisdom, sometimes even when he seemed to be dozing. All of us are unique, but Bruce was ‘uniquer’ than most.

However for Bruce’s obituary in this magazine, it seems appropriate to dwell on what Bruce meant to some of his distance runners and colleagues at Marlborough and what follows is a selection of their ‘musings’ about him.

Roger Ellis (The Master 1972-86): “His quiet voice and gentle manner probably limited his impact in the classroom, but it only partly concealed his basic confidence. Amongst the long distance runners, famously individualists (‘lonely’!), he created a team spirit which was centered round admiration for him, but also affection. He had a legendary reputation, of course, but this would have counted for little amongst the Marlburians had he not also been alongside them, infecting them with his ambition, helping them to achieve more than they thought possible, enjoying their company and happy about their successes. It was exciting to watch a Marlborough tradition being triumphantly revived as Bruce shepherded his flock across the Downs! In this sense he was a very fine teacher.”

Guy Russell (B1 1972-77): “In Shell, cross-country was the one activity not to choose on a Wednesday afternoon, unless everything else was booked up, and so my fate was sealed one Wednesday when this happened to me. For some reason I persevered and then one term this new beak, Bruce Tulloh, appeared in our midst. Suddenly we were doing interval training, hill training, longer runs (including gathering mushrooms in Savernake Forest) and even a modicum of weight training. Lo and behold, our results started improving and we began to win. Fittingly we sealed a 3 year unbeaten record in inter-school cross country matches at his alma mater, Wellington – no mean feat given the disparate bunch of individuals he inherited as his squad.”

Jeremy Barton (C1 1977-82): “Bruce was a coach who believed in coaching his athletes to coach themselves; as I progressed into competing as an international distance runner, more often than not I would explain to Bruce what training I planned for the week ahead and he would respond by saying it was precisely what he had been thinking. Over the years, as well, his aphorisms (and he had plenty!) would come into mind to help deal with particular situations. These ranged from ‘The skin’s waterproof!’ when we were heading out for a 10 miler in the pouring rain, to ‘Running is supposed to add to your enjoyment of life, not detract from it!’ when there was a clash of priorities between a scheduled training session and an important family commitment.”

Nick Dorey (PR 1972-76): “Running became an inclusive club under his coaching, with pupils of all ages training and socialising together, whatever their abilities. To Bruce, running was both a way of life and fun – values which he passed on to all he coached. We trained hard – personally I trained 5-6 times a week throughout my school days – but we did it for fun, and out of that came success. We embraced the challenging, hilly sessions out to Fifield, Four Mile Clump and even Barbary Castle. Many of us followed Bruce’s example, racing barefoot on grass and even the College cinder track. During the mid 70’s Bruce was coaching Kenyan Olympic athletes and Mike Boit would come and train with us. He even gave me running spikes. I also remember Bruce taking me up to Crystal Palace and introducing me to Harold Abrahams. It’s small wonder that, like many other Marlburians, I was inspired to run!”

Frank Gardner (LI 1974-79): “He has been a lifelong inspiration to me, having taught me the lessons of long term endurance, pushing through the pain barrier on long-distance runs and keeping going when you’re body is begging you to stop! Bruce knew exactly how to get the best from his team, never overbearing, always coaxing us to go further and run faster. I will never forget the look on his face when he watched me finish my first marathon, the Masters and Maidens over the Hog’s Back in Surrey.”

Sam Moorhead (B3 1974 -9): “I first came across Bruce as I was jumping over the stile from Barton Farm up to the Kennels, at the end of the Shell Steeplechase. I was in the top ten and Bruce shouted encouragement. Very early on, one realised the magnetic pull of Bruce. He had a group of older boys clustered around him – names like Nick Dorey, Guy Russell and Chris Upton – who formed a close-knit and devoted training unit. When I was only in the Shell I was invited by Bruce to join them training on Wedgwood. I was used as a hare and from then on felt I could be part of the outfit. In all his coaching Bruce led by example. I even remember him doing the shot putt when we were doing the 5 Star Awards; at the same time he was tickled pink when our burly discus thrower, deciding he would see to it that a new junior high jump record would be set, put the bar up to maximum height, and then threw a Shell boy over it!”

World Cup Marathon winner in San Sebastian in 1993, Richard Nerurkar, who trained with Bruce when a member of Common Room (CR 1989-91): “At Marlborough Bruce created the perfect training environment for me. It felt as though we were on a great journey together. Bruce was fiercely competitive and believed that success was worth striving for. But being coached by Bruce was about a lot more than that. Bruce introduced me to Africa, and to the joy of training under Mount Kenya. We spent many summers together in Font Romeu in the Pyrenees from where came many of our shared friendships – and which led on to unforgettable big championship experiences. Thinking back over my many years of running, I felt most fulfilled as a runner when I was at Marlborough and because of all I shared there with Bruce and Sue. Bruce gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and then guided me through the highs and lows of training and competition. Ultimately Bruce changed the direction of my life.”

Ali Sharp (CR 1990- present): “I first met Bruce when I joined the Marlborough College Biology department. He was always helpful with regards to teaching and very pragmatic with a dry sense of humour. His observations about teaching or pupils were made quietly and were understated but always accurate and relevant. He had a knack of ‘resting his eyes’ at Biology Department meetings, waking up at the perfect moment to contribute an astute comment; he used the same trick at dinner parties! We were still running two years ago on the Downs. He would talk about music, he could remember the running times and competitions won by people he had met over the years, but most of all he use to love talking about his family especially his grandchildren One particular morning on the Downs, I asked him his thoughts on euthanasia and he replied – ‘well not today – I am feeling pretty good,’ and he then timed himself to see how quickly he could run the last furlong!”

Julian Lloyd (CR 1991-present): “Running can be a solitary activity. But running was a way of life and Bruce gave generously of his vast experience and knowledge, never for self promotion – he had no need of that since he was a household name – but always to help others reach their potential. Whatever his achievements as an athlete, and they were considerable, I think he found his metier in coaching as he loved to share his own love of running. Whenever I go to the track and look at the College middle distance records set during his time here, they are a magnificent testament to the generation of Marlburians whom Bruce inspired. I wonder if they will ever be broken.”

Compiled by James Flecker (C1 1952-8; CR 1967-80)