1972: Aberdeen’s First Go

Alastair Wood

 Aberdeen made their first attempt, north to south in 1972, starting on Sunday 9th April.   Donald Ritchie remembers Steve Taylor and Alastair Wood chatting about the possibilities during Sunday runs.   Most people were incapable of speaking or thinking during those knackering sessions!   Steve was captain of the team in 1972 and 1973 and arranged sponsorship from the Evening Express.   We turned up at Aberdeen Journals on the Lang Stracht for a publicity meeting.   Particularly chic tight fitting red tracksuits were handed out.   These were mainly used as pyjamas during the actual relay!

After our attempt started the John  O’Groat Journal reported that each pair of runners was accompanied by a dormobile with a driver and co-driver.   Messages from the Lord Provost of Aberdeen and Provost Mowat of Wick were sent with the team to the chairman of Penzance Council, conveying best wishes from folk at “the northern end” to “those dwelling in the vicinity of Land’s End.”   “The system employed by the team throughout the long run was a combination of time and mileage turns – three spells of 20 minutes for each runner, with intervening 20 minute rests in one of the escorting vehicles, and then repeating the process after 60 miles”.   In actual fact we quickly realised that the best system, apart from during the last 100 miles, was for each pair of runners to share two hours of five minutes on, five minutes off.

The article continues: “The first man off, Alastair Wood, sprinted away from the John O’Groats House Hotel promptly at 4:00 pm, the time keeper’s signal being immediately translated publicly by the Provost giving a blast on the team’s “trumpet” – a horn  once carried by a railway track look out man and used for warning workmen that a train was approaching.

A Scottish and British Internationalist, Alastair Wood is holder of the world 40 mile record.   he is a lecturer on the staff of Robert Gordon’s College of Technology, Aberdeen.   The second man to take the road was Graham Milne, a former Springburn (Glasgow) Harrier.   He is a teacher in Robert Gordon’s College.   Number Three was Steve Taylor, a former three and ten mile champion and Scottish Internationalist.   He is on the advertising staff of the ‘Press and Journal and was the paper’s head organiser for the race.

Caithness has a special interest in the runner who became the fourth man out – Alexander Keith, a Royal Air Force cross country team regular, who comes from Castletown although he is now a Senior Aircraftsman based at Waddington, Lincolnshire and works as a survival equipment fitter.   He joined Aberdeen AAC last year.”   (Sandy became a regular British marathon international in the late 1970’s)

“The other six members of the team were Donald Ritchie, a marathon runner and engineering student at Aberdeen University; Colin Youngson, a teacher in Glasgow who ran cross country and track for Scottish Universities; Peter Duffy of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, an exciseman and fell runner currently based in Wishaw; Robert Heron, a Scottish Universities international cross country runner and post graduate student at Aberdeen University; Martin Walsh, ex-Cambridge University track runner, now a marine biologist at Torry Research Station, Aberdeen; and Alistair Neaves a twenty year old apprentice watch maker and track runner.”

This was a very good team with Wood, Taylor and Keith outstanding, but we lacked understanding of the specific difficulties posed by this gruelling event.    We had to maintain ten and a half miles per hour to beat Reading’s record.   At first, all seemed to be going fairly well but our chosen route proved a handicap – cutting through Glen Quaich slowed us down, as did sending poor Din Ritchie on a solo struggle over a snowbound twenty mile stretch on the Corryairack Pass.   Then it became clear that we had an extra six miles to do that had not been accounted for.   Vans broke down, runners slept in and the so-called co-ordinators (including the abnormally enthusiastic and energetic Mel Edwards) succumbed to sleep deprivation.   Injuries took their toll but young Neaves performed heroically as did Martin Walsh, the fastest hirple in the north, who maintained the pace despite suffering due to a steel pin in his left leg which had been inserted after a bad motorcycle accident.   As exhaustion hit, and dreadfully stiff legs, things became so bad that they began to seem hysterically funny.   Rab Heron and I fantasised about a Kestel hovering overhead actually being a vulture, waiting to pick at our skinny bones.

In the end, despite a valiant attempt to speed up over the last hundred miles, we finished  45 minutes outside the record, in 80 hours 25 minutes 53 seconds.   This was the second fastest team time and the fastest north to south, but we were very disappointed.