Cammie Spence

Cammie running in the Six Stage Relays

Cameron Spence, known to everybody as Cammie, was born on 19th July in 1950 and ran for five Scottish clubs (with an affiliation to one Irish outfit).   The Scottish clubs were Greenock Glenpark Harriers, Greenock Wellpark, Spango Valley, Inverclyde and in the summer of 1973, for Shettleston Harriers.   On the track he was ranked nationally from 1972 to 1988 in 3000 m, 5000m and 10000m with personal best times of 8:40.8, 14:27.6 and 30:00.84.   On the road there are times of 64:18 for the half-marathon and 2:28 for the marathon.   All good times and he was really competitive whatever the surface.  He hated the track because “it was so bloody hard” but he did run it in championships and in Highland Games.  Nevertheless, he is better known as an international cross-country and road runner.   

He started as a boy with Glenpark between eleven and fifteen years of age, and ran in his first major championships in 1960/61.   He was fifth in the District Championships as a Junior Boy and then 63rd in the National at Hamilton.  Of these early days he says Running was in the family. My 3 older brothers, Jim, George and Gordon all ran. So at the age of 11 I joined Glenpark Harriers. My first coach was the legendary Bill Elder. He coached all the youngsters in the club at that time. I only trained twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Short run followed by circuit training. To this day I can still be dab hand at skipping!”   

His father was a football player of talent and had been approached to play for a senior professional team and Cammie followed in his  footsteps for four years or so.   He played at the top amateur level before coming back into athletics in 1970.   He trained for a while with younger brother Lawrie and they were coached by big brother Jim.   With some encouragement from big brother George and his wife Pat, Cammie then moved to Greenock Wellpark Harriers where he coached himself.  His first run in Wellpark colours was in 1970 at Bute Highland Games.   It was in the Mile Handicap where  he was the back marker.  The family in the form of Jim and George complained to the handicapper because Cammie was a novice, saying that it was his first race in five years and he shouldn’t be the back marker. The handicapper would not change his mind.    Cammie, however, finished 4th and at the following week’s Cowal Highland Games he finished third on the Friday and, it being the age of the amateur,  won a plaque. He still has it.   The family bond was always important and when Cammie was asked if any person or group had a marked influence on his attitude or his performances, he says without hesitation, “I would say my oldest brother Jim. He was very enthusiastic about athletics and installed discipline into my training.”

Cammie is known as a hard runner and a real competitor.   He never just ‘ran round’ a trail in his life.   Maybe that’s why the photograph above is labelled ‘How to Hurt’!    He became a senior athlete in 1971/72 and he competed all the way through to the twenty first century.   One of the really big events during his time in the sport was the eight man Edinburgh to Glasgow relay and Cammie ran in no fewer than twenty one of them between 1968 and 1998 for four clubs.   The toughest stages of a race with no easy stages were the second and sixth.   His record was 1st Stage x 2, 2nd Stage x 3, 4th Stage x 1, 5th Stage x 4, 6th Stage x 9, 8th Stage x 2.   He represented Glenpark in 1968 and ’69, Wellpark in 1970, ’71 and ’72, Spango Valley in 1977, ’78, ’79, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’87 ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94 and ’95, and Inverclyde in 1998.   Remarkable.  

Cross-country was his forte however.   Spango Valley AAC was founded in September 1973 and Cammie was one of key men there right from the start.  A very good all round team they seemed to be specially good in relays and the part Cammie played (he was team captain for 20 of the club’s 25 years) was tremendous.   In the District Relays, they won gold, silver and bronze and Cammie ran times in the top ten most years and although they never won the six-stage road relays, they won lots of metal there as well.   He was a really good team player.    How was he as an individual?   We can look at his championship record.

In 1972/73 the Glasgow Herald report on the South West District championships read: “The Spence brothers, running for Glenpark and Wellpark respectively, dominated the South Western District Championships.   Laurie Spence was an easy winner of the senior/junior title by no less than 270 yards from his brother with Dick Hodelet a similar distance away third.”    Glenpark won the team race with Wellpark third.      In the National championships at the end of the season, Cammie was 27th in the Senior race while Laurie was second in the Junior event running for Strathclyde University.  Running for the new club of Spango Valley AAC in the 1974 National at Coatbridge, Cameron was 17th  while Lawrie was fourth in the Junior race.   The improvement was year-on-year by now and in 1975, Cammie won the last South-West District championship ever held by over half a minute with former team mate Bill Stoddart third.  This was followed by 41st in the National at Coatbridge.   

In season 1975/76 the South West District merged with the Midland District to form the West District – a much tougher outfit with good results harder to come by.   In the Championships, neither Cammie nor the club were placed and Cammie missed the National held again at Coatbridge.   

The rivalry between Cammie and Lawrie had not yet started to heat up and in the District Championship Lawrie was eighth and Cammie 21st.   In the National in 1977 Lawrie was fourth and Cammie was 26th.   The following year on a very hard and rutted course at East Kilbride Lawrie won from Phil Dolan of Clydesdale Harriers and Cammie was not able to run.   In the National however, Cammie had the beating of Lawrie when he finished twelfth to Lawrie’s fifteenth.   Time difference?   22 seconds.   The rivalry was probably at its best over the next few years    Both quality cross-country men, they had some real battles over the years with Lawrie generally coming out on top.     Neither ran in the District in 1978 and Cammie also missed the National where Lawrie was second.   

In the District championships in 1979/80 Cammie was third but they met up again in the national where Lawrie was fifth with Cammie tenth.  Difference?   47 seconds or 200 yards+.   The following year Lawrie was fourth with Cammie 12th, and so on with the gap being about 200 yards at the finish.   When Lawrie finished at Strathclyde Unversity he returned to Greenock and joined Cammie at Spango Valley AC.   Inevitably there was some sibling rivalry in evidence.   When asked, Cammie says, Of course there was, at times, between Lawrie and myself.   I always enjoyed beating Lawrie in races – which wasn’t very often.    He wasn’t as keen for me to do it!    Some of our sessions we did in the Battery Park in Greenock were legendary, and boy did they pay-off for us!”    

As  founder nations of the Cross-Country International Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales ran as separate nations in the World Cross-Country Championships up until 1985.   It was a wonderful time and the effect on Scottish distance running was entirely beneficial.   As well as the International there were several international fixtures on the continent for four man teams – Elgoibar in Spain, Hannut in Belgium, San Sebastian in Spain and so on.   The opportunities were there if you could take them.   Cammie was fortunate enough enough to have the talent that could take him to the necessary standard.   After running for a short time for Scottish representative teams at a time when the standard was high, he had the opportunity to race in the biggest race on the calendar for Ireland.  

Asked about the Irish connection, he said It started in 1979 when I fell out with the Scottish selectors.  I won the International race at Stirling University grounds running for Scotland in 1978.  Won it quite easily and was picked to run in Belfast  (which was cancelled due to the Troubles), and San Sebastian on the back of that win. Then went to Spain and picked a bug up (likely on the plane) and ran poorly. When I got home I had a chest infection. Missed training for a number of weeks and as a result missed the National but asked the selectors to consider me for the Worlds.   They didn’t.  

Meanwhile Rod Stone (Cambuslang Harriers) from NI asked Lawrie and I if we would like to run for Annadale Striders at the NI Senior Cross-Country Championships. We had Irish qualification through our father who was born in Belfast (and how did they find that out?).  We both agreed and joined the Striders.    Lawrie finished second  and I was sixth. They offered us places in the NI team for the Worlds. I said yes and Lawrie said no.  I got International clearance quickly. I went to Limerick for the Worlds and beat half the Scottish team. I had proved a point. It was the best move I ever made.”  

He had to qualify for selection by running in the Irish Senior National Cross-Country Championships and the result was that Cammie ran for Northern Ireland in Limerick in 1979, in Paris in 1980, in Madrid in ’81, in Gateshead in 1983 and in New York in 1984.   In  Limerick they were almost side by side at the finish – Lawrie was 193rd and Cammie 194th  and in New York they were team captains.   Not limited to the Worlds he turned out in international races at Milan and Buussels on the continent, Gateshead, Stirling, Cumbernauld and in road races in the south of Ireland too.   It was a great time for the event and cross-country has a high status in Ireland – Cammie ran in teams with Greg and Gerry Hannon, Paul Lawther, John McLaughlin and many other well-kent athletes.   

Family rivalry was now raised to international level.   Asked about the duels with Lawrie he said: ” Yes – at the Worlds and various other events.   I have stories about us and our battles over the country.   Now here is a question for you. Who are the only brothers to captain different nations at the World Cross-Country Championship.    And what year and place?    Yip, Lawrie and myself were the captains of Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively at New York in 1984.    What a honour for us.   Pity our dad had died two years previously.”

Cammie in his Irish vest

Of course there was life after the World Cross-Country Championships – 8 of his Edinburgh to Glasgow Relays for a start.   Cammie is a runners’ runner, he turns out for his club as readily as for his country, he turns out for the sake of the race regardless of whether there is a club team or whether he is running as an individual.    He continued to do so as well and as hard as he always did.   There was something he had not tried yet though.    In the 80’s the marathon was the thing.   Everybody ran the event – young people, old people, very old people – and there are no prizes for knowing that Cammie ran the event.   He says:

I hated marathons. 20 miles and body switched off. Every time except…………………in 1984.  I ran at the Cowal Games on the Saturday in the 5K. 2nd to Lawrie in 14.53.   Then it was 8 pints of lager and Chinese meal after.   My wife got me up at 9.30am on  Sunday morning saying I had promised to run the Inverclyde Marathon with Terry Wilkie.   I had just remembered after the 5K he asked me.   So I had a cold shower to wake and sober up and get a entry on the day (morning) and got to the start line just in that ime.   Off we went.   Time passed by in a sort of blur.   We stopped for water, we stopped for sponge fights, we stopped to get our picture taken.  Our last stop was just before the mile to go mark.

“Terry was struggling.   I wisnae bad.   Didn’t have a clue about time, but there were two  Kilbarchan runners coming and I said to Terry we can’t let them beat us.  He told me to go away.   He just wanted to lie down.    I wouldn’t let him,   Got him going.  We finished with a time of 2.35.    I couldn’t believe it.    Could have been 2.34 but we stopped again to pose for pictures before the finish.    There is no justice.    Didn’t train for it; raced the day before; drank too much the night before. I still don’t know how I managed it.”

Clearly fit and well but the twenty first century had a nasty surprise for Cameron Spence.


The above headline appeared in the Greenock Telegraph in 2010 and started: “An international athlete from Greenock discovered that his heart stopped beating during the night – but is now amazingly back running.   Cameron Cammy Spence was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma two years ago and had to give up running – but it was actually his heart that was causing breathlessness during exercise.   He has been fitted with a heart pacemaker and is back pounding the streets as well as being involved in worldwide research that could save lives.  

Superfit Cammy was given the shocking news about his heart after a specialist at Inverclyde Royal Hospital said he wasn’t convinced he had asthma and arranged for him to  get a mobile heart monitor.   Cammy said “I had the monitor on for 24 hours and it showed my heart stopping twice during he night for 4.5 seconds at a time.   I couldn’t believe it.   There is no history of heart problems on my mother’s or father’s sides of the family.   I felt numb.   

Now the Inverclyde Athletic Club coach wants to warn other runners that they too might under certain circumstances be in danger of damaging their hearts.”

Cammy then discovered after reading a magazine article that he wasn’t the only runner diagnosed wrongly with asthma instead of an irregular heart beat.   Now the Inverclyde Athletic Club coach wants to warn other runners that they too, under certain circumstances , could be in danger of damaging their hearts.   He said, “Just as I was getting diagnosed for an irregular heartbeat there was an article in “Athletics Weekly” by oneof the regulat writers who has the same problem.  “

Cammie got in touch with Martin and many Scottish runners then got in touch with him about it.   His belief is that hard training when running through colds and ‘flu may be the cause.   Remember he was running when all the regular road runners, not just the internationals, were running 70 – 100 mpw.   The whole article can be found at:

The cardiologist who diagnosed the problem was very keen to find out more about it and was very interested in Cammie’s work with Martin through AW.   Right now, he says that he was happy with the pacemaker but at present and for the last two years it’s not as good.   He still runs but feels more tired, even when jogging.   It is an ongoing problem and he is discussing it with his new cardiologist.  


Cammie is still very involved in the sport.    Let’s count the ways!

  1.   He has been coaching for many years.  It was easy for him to do the coaching, he says, as he had been coaching himself from 1976.   He was always experimenting.. When Spango were at their peak in the 80’s most of the guys at IBM were doing Cammie’s sessions.  Heencouraged them and says it was great to see them improving.
  2.  Administration. He has been doing that for a very long time as well. We have already noted that he was club captain at Spango for 20 years of its 25 years in existence. He was also the first captain of Inverclyde AC when it was formed in 1998.    Vice President  in 1998 and then President of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club, plus  was the handicapper, race convenor, timekeeper, recorder.
  3. Then there was the Cowal Highland Gathering.   The Games committee asked if he was willing to bring athletics back to the Games.  This was 1996.   Of course being Cammie, he said he would.  He says:  “Cowal was wonderful. Running if front of 20000 people was amazing. So it was May ’96 that I had a meeting with the Captain Eric Brown, committee member, on the Western Ferries  So over 2 sailings between Gourock and Dunoon I had  my plan accepted and the athletics would start again at that years Games. Had my ups and downs at Cowal. Down bits caused by the Scottish Pipe Band Association. The up bits were the athletes who supported me. I’m sure they all enjoyed the experience. I stepped down last year after 20 years as athletics convenor. I always intended that the Dunoon folk should look after their Games. Now happening.”
  4. He has also been involved with the Bute Highland Games since he himself first started competing there in 1970.   Over the years he slowly drifted into becoming an official and is now athletics convenor. “I canny help myself, he says.
  5. Now there is the Renfrewshire AAA’s. President. Stand in Secretary, Treasurer, timekeeper, recorder. Been Colin Shield’s back-up for many, many years. Colin retired last year. His health not that great. 40 years he has been involved with the county. Looks like I’m going that way too.

  We asked Cammie to reflect on his running career and he came up with the following responses.

Looking back, Cammie, what exactly did you get out of the sport?

Friendships. The people I met during my running career were all wonderful. From Joe Jogger to World and Olympic Champions. And the many officials as well. It was the friendships that were created and they still last today.

Can you describe your general attitude to the sport?

It was hard work at times but  I enjoyed the training and taking part in races. Especially the racing.

What do you consider your best ever performance?

It was actually one year, 1979.

*I had always wanted to win a District Track title (10K at Coatbridge).

*I won the Gourock Highland Games Road Race(remember watching the road race as a wee boy and thinking I want to win that).

*And racing at the World XC Championships for the first time.

It was some year for me. The only down side it was a couple of years until I got my motivation back.   So the moral of the story is, and something I tell my athletes “You can always do better”.

 And your worst?

All my marathons. (Except the Inverclyde one in 1984. Which made me question why was I doing them?).

What goals do you have that are still unachieved?

My goals are for the athletes that I coach. I want them to get the best out of themselves. I think I achieved mines.

What would you have changed about your athletics career were you able to go back?

When I started running again there was only Ravenscraig Stadium for us to do our quality sessions.   It was a cinder track.   It was either brick hard or like a bog.   You know what Greenock is like for rain!!!   It was blisters or getting covered in wet dirty cinders.    So it was the Battery Park and on the grass which I developed for doing our speed work starting in 1976.  If we had a decent track maybe my track times would have been better.   But the Battery did help me pick up a lot of prizes at the Highland Games hmmm.  So to answer the question, if I had a decent track to train on maybe, just maybe, my track times would have been so much better. That would have gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Ran for Scotland quite a few times on the country. I would call them B vests. And was involved in the international training sessions, usually at Livingston on a wet Sunday.

I ran for the Scottish Vets. I did offer my services to the Northern Ireland people when I turned 40 in 1990. They didn’t respond for some reason. So I was more than happy to put on the dark blue vest once again. But I decided in 1996 I had had enough of International competition. I just didn’t want the pressure any more.


What do you think of the sport now that it is ‘more professional’ in its set up?

It was better run(ex the pun)in days gone by. But things are starting to improve. Scottishathletics are slowly starting to realise that the clubs are the mainstay of the sport. But there is too much emphasis on the younger athletes and not enough encouragement for the older ones. As I say the young ones come and go. The seniors are the mainstay of the clubs.   The “professional” athletes we have are having money flung at them. When they are good enough they will get invites and appearance money to the larger events. They don’t need the sports body to support them.

What advice would you give a young person coming into the sport for the first time today?

Athletics are there to be enjoyed. You can only do your best. You are going to have good days and bad ones. Don’t expect too much too soon. You only get out of the sport what you put into it.

And my favourite saying “You are as only as good as your NEXT race. You learn from the last one”. 

One of his former rivals, Colin Youngson (three SAAA Marathon titles, 10 marathon medals in total, and SAAA 10 miles track champion) has some good memories of racing Cameron.   He says

“To other runners, Cammie was well liked and respected as a fighter, a terrier – someone who could be relied on to battle as hard as possible and seldom even considered easing off – a very difficult man to beat, or stave off, if he was chasing you. He and I were occasionally close rivals, although his forte was cross-country and mine road running, especially marathons, which he did not enjoy.

Since I am nearly three years older, when we first raced against each other, on Stage Two of the E to G in 1970, I was a fair bit faster and the same was true on Stage Four in 1972. However by 1982 on Stage 2 he outpaced me quite easily, although I got my revenge on Stage Five in 1984 and 1985.

In the National Senior Cross Country, Cammie definitely had the edge. Although I finished in front of him in 1972, he outkicked me a year later. The last time I beat him in this prestigious event was in 1975. After that it was Cammie all the way, although 1978 was close – I was thirteenth and he was one irritating place in front! In 1980, although he beat me easily, I had the consolation of being ESH captain and a counter in their winning team.

An interesting encounter took place in October 1981 at the Allan Scally Road Relay. I had moved back up north and rejoined Aberdeen AAC. Since I was not particularly fit, I assumed that this event would merely provide good training. However Peter Wilson and Fraser Clyne ran well and then Graham Laing came back to form with a bang – handing me a totally unexpected 39 second lead! Cammie closed inexorably and by the finish, although AAAC did hold on to win, it was only by eleven seconds!

After he became a veteran by turning 40 in July 1990, we renewed our rivalry and had quite a few close contests. In the 1991 Scottish Vets Track Champs, I did manage to beat Cammie over 5000m, but he had raced the 1500m previously. Aberdeen was the venue for that year’s Home Countries Veteran Cross Country tussle. I was in the Scottish first team and Cammie in the second team. However I suffered badly from catarrh and, after starting too fast, began retching and struggling. Cammie’s unsympathetic voice rang out just behind me, “For God’s sake, Colin, if you’re going to die, just die!” He moved ahead, out of earshot, and ended up a respectable 11th, with me a disconsolate 16th.

At the Kelvin Hall Scottish Vets Indoors in March 1992, Cammie and I had a real fight in the 1500m, before he sped away to win in 4.16.3, while I was happy enough with 4.17.4. Then he beat me into third in the 3000m. Dougie Mackenzie won, with Cammie recording 8.56 and me three seconds behind. At the end of the same month the 8-Man Alloa to Twechar relay took place. Cammie won Stage Stage Two; I was fastest on Stage Seven and AAAC were first team home.

Saturday October 31st 1992 was a red letter day for me, and Cammie made me fight very hard. I had just turned 45 and was very keen to do well in that category at the Five Nations Vets XC event in Belfast. The rest of the Scots team arrived on Friday; but Cammie flew in from Glasgow that morning. I started fast but Cammie caught up and we ran closely together until there was less than a lap to go, when I edged away to finish 6th (and first M45, also leading my age group team to Gold), while Cammie was a fine 9th and led the Scots M40 team to Silver medals. Then he flew straight back home!

In 1993 I did manage to beat Cammie over 5000m in the Scots Vets Track; and in 1994 finished 4th in the Scots Vets XC, one place in front of him. However in 1996 Cammie Spence beat me very easily in the British Veterans Half Marathon Champs in Monkland.

Looking back, we were very well matched and enjoyed a long friendly rivalry.

Always a contributor to the sport, Cammie became President of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club. When I started as editor of the club newsletter, Cammie submitted a lengthy account of the SVHC Easter trip to the sun in Lanzarote, a thoroughly enjoyable trip which he had helped to organise for many years. Social events in 2014 included daily runs exploring the local area, darts, sunbathing, Bingo, hotel entertainment, several refreshments, water flumes, climbing a volcano, a barbecue, cycling and a 5 km road race!”

And one of Colin’s key phrases was  “always a contributor.    Many, many people take part in the wonderful sports of road and cross-ountry running and almost all retire more or less gracefully after their competition dys are done.   But the spport relies on such as Cammie who after a long career as a runner give back at least as much as they have got out of the sport.   In Cammie’s case the return has been considerable.





Des Austin


Des Austin was a very good road and cross-country runner with a best marathon time inside 2:20 but one who as a younger runner was not a stand-out performer.    There were no big championship victories as an Under 13 or Under 15 or, indeed at Under 17.   Des was good enough to complete the questionnaire for us and it  makes an appropriate starting point.

Date of Birth: 15/2/1945

Club/s:   Victoria Park, Manchester Harriers, Invicta, Highgate  

How did you get involved in the sport to begin with? Athletics was not taken seriously at my school, but I started there going out for runs on my own.   Was awful to start with, scraping into Glasgow University’s second team and finishing nearly last in all my youths’ and Inter-University races. It could only get better!   

Personal Bests: 5000m – 14.34, 10K (Road) – 29.45, 10 Miles – 49.27, Half-Marathon – 65.33, Marathon – 2.19.19 

Has any individual or group had a marked effect on your performances or attitude to the sport? Encouragement/advice from Vicky Park clubmates, especially the wonderful Andy Forbes, was crucial to improved performances.  

What exactly did you get out of the sport? Testing myself, sense of achievement, making lifelong friends, travelling to interesting (and not so interesting!) places.   Primarily, though, I ran, and still do, because I love running for its own sake – no other reason needed.

What do you consider your best performance? Fourth in Scottish Junior Cross-Country Champs 1966, behind three classy athletes – McCafferty, Eddie Knox and Alistair Blamire, especially as I never thought of myself as a cross-country runner. Also enjoyed passing about 30 runners in the last 3 miles in first London Marathon to finish 18th.

Your least good? I won’t even go there. Don’t do negativity any more. No regrets!

Can you give some idea of your training?   Big miles or high quality?   Once I started working tried to keep things simple.   80-100 miles per week, mainly achieved through steady running to/from work, with long run at weekend and one session of fartlek.

Have you any thoughts on the sport today or its development? It’s great to see so many people, of different shapes and sizes out running.    Well done to Paul Sinton-Hewitt for starting Park Runs.    I’ll leave it to greater minds than mine to work out why the standard of distance running is so poor today in the UK.

Did you/do you have any heroes in the sport? Too many have had to be taken off my list now, I’m afraid. Laase Viren was the first to go. Still more revelations on doping to come, on that I have no doubt.    I do love watching Laura Muir race.


I first became aware of Des when, as a member of Clydesdale Harriers, I noted a frail-looking young entrant in the club’s Youth Ballot Team Race of 1964 sitting on his own in Bruce Street Baths pinning numbers on a Glasgow University vest.   There weren’t many University runners who were still eligible to run as Youths.   He was unplaced in the race.   He next came to my notice in the Midland District championships at the Renton in 1965 when he finished 54th in the senior championships and out of the medals in the Victoria Park team that was second in the championships.   Not bad bearing in mind how heavy that trail always was, the severity of the big hill and the fact that he was running against seniors and juniors.   He followed this with 23rd in the national junior championships to win a team bronze in the four man Victoria Park team led home by Iain McPherson in 15th place.   Others in the team were Pat Maclagan and John Lees.


The following winter season (1965/66)  he was a member of the Victoria Park team that finished fifth in the District relay at King’s Park, Stirling, on 30th October.  The next big one was the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay on 20th November where he ran the seventh stage in the team that finished third.  He had the third fastest time on the stage, faster than Stark of Edinburgh Southern, Gillon of Edinburgh AC and other well known runners.    In the traditional start to the new year he travelled to the Nigel Barge road race at Maryhill on 8th January.   The club team was second, and Des was 12th behind Hugh Barrow (5th) and Pat Maclagan (10th)   Back on the championship trail, he was second VP runner in the District championships proper, held on 15th January at Strathleven Estate, Dumbarton, when he was 16th, behind Pat Maclagan in ninth, one place ahead of John Lees, and two in front of Alastair Johnstone.      The team won and it was only the first team gold for Des.   His progress continued apace and he was fourth in the junior National at Hamilton Racecourse behind McCafferty, Knox and Blamire.   This was the run that Des has said he considers his best.   The three in front were all ‘stars’.   McCafferty was one of Scotland’s best ever runners whether he was running on the track or over the country, Eddie Knox won gold, silver and bronze in the World Junior Cross Country championships and Alistair Blamire was an extremely talented athlete who represented Scotland on track and country.  As far as the VPAAC team was concerned, he led team mates Reilly, Johnston and Lees to first team medals.   He really was progressing in leaps and bounds.    A bit unfortunate not to gain his international vest, he was probably just too old for the international junior age group and not yet established enough or far enough up to make the senior team.

 That summer, 1966, was the only time he was ranked as a track runner when he ran six miles on the track in the good time of 30:37.6.

There were many county relay championships in the 1950’s and 60’s including a Glasgow Relay Championship and in October 1966 Victoria Park won comfortably with Pat Maclagan on the first stage finishing just behind Maryhill’s Jim Brennan but Alastair Johnstone gave them the lead at halfway and Des and John Crawford increased the lead all the way to the finish.   Later that month, 22nd October, it was the domestic Victoria Park championship and Des was fourth behind Barrow, McLaren and Maclagan.  The moth ended with the Midland District Relay Championships at King’s Park in Stirling on 29th October where Motherwell YMCA ran out the victors and the battle between Mills of Dumbarton and Middleton of Springburn for third place grabbed the attention of the press and spectators, Victoria Park was second team with Barrow, McLaren, Maclagan and Austin the men responsible.   With the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay looming, many clubs held trials to select their eight representatives.   The Victoria Park trial was on 12 November and the result was a win for Hugh Barrow with Des Austin in sixth, one place ahead of Joe Reilly.   This was to the second of his six runs in the relay and he was equal second fastest on Stage Seven and Victoria Park secured second place.   Then in 1970 it was bronze once more after Des had run on Stage Four.   The only other championship race coming up was the Glasgow championship and Victoria Park won it comfortably with six of the top eight runners.   His second fastest time and sixth handicap placing in the club’s Christmas Handicap towards the end of December ended the year for Des.

By then he had moved south to work running for various English clubs over the years – Manchester first, then Invicta (in Kent) and eventually Highgate Harriers in London.   However Des Austin became serious about his running once more in the late 1970’s.  Running well south of the Border, he returned to run in the E-G in 1978 and promptly won his fourth team medal – silver this time, with Des tackling the exposed Stage Five straight into a blizzard, retaining second place and ending up third fastest, only ten seconds off the fastest.   Five medals in five attempts was his record in 1980 when VP were third and he ran Stage Six.   It is not true that after Des’s Scottish club could only manage fourth in 1981 despite his efforts on classy Stage Six (sixth fastest), Des Austin refused to compete in the race again, since he had finally failed to win a medal!

By then the main focus for Des had become the marathon, although he finished a good fourteenth for Victoria Park in the 1978 senior national at Bellahouston Park.   At this time he was the owner of ‘Runners Need’, a specialist sports shop in Camden, London.   In 1979 he ran 2:24:58 at Harlow, finishing tenth.   On schedule for 2:20 at 20 miles he then ‘hit the wall’ with a vengeance and vowed he’d never do another one.   Not the first to ever make such a remark, I think!   He was doing 7 minute a mile pace when Les Presland went flying past.   That year he also ran 10,000m in 30:44.

In 1980 He ran the Preston to Morecambe in 2:19:30 to be second to Mike Critchley but 1981 was a very good year.   Have a look at these:

  •   2:20:16 in London for 18th
  • 2:19:21 for 9th in Sandbach
  • 2:23:20 in the British Pony Marathon in Bolton for 2nd;
  • 2:19:19 in Glasgow where he was fifth.

The Glasgow time was achieved wearing the Scottish international vest: D  Jim McGlynn from Eire was less than a minute in front of him, with Alan Coles (Wales) second and Rod Stone (Northern Ireland ad Cambuslang Harriers), Colin Youngson, Des Austin and Alastair Macfarlane representing Scotland finishing closely together,   Scotland won the team race  and received specially inscribed SAAA gold medals.

Des Austin continued to record marathon times in the 2:20’s for some years and as a veteran did very well

  •   in Chicago (1985: 47th/2nd Master in 2:24:49).   Chicago was also a very nice pay day with a cheque for several thousands of dollars!
  • London (1987: 74th/1st British vet/3rd vet overall in 2:24:14)
  • Boston (1988: 90th/6th Master in 2:28:38).

In 1988 he became owner of ‘Runners Need’ (as mentioned above) and by the time he sold the business in 2010 there were seven branches, and it has continued to expand.

It is all to common to see young athletes who do not succeed give up the sport before they even reach the ranks of Under 20’s: Des is a lesson to them all.   One of Scotland’s Olympians at the start of the century was of the opinion that men succeed more from the lessons early failure than early success.   It didn’t take Des too long to learn from the lessons taught by the Glasgow University second team!


 Hugh Barrow and Des at the back; Albert Smith and Alastair Johnston in front.   September 2016

George Craig

1949 Scottish Cross Country team (1)

Scottish Cross-Country team, 1949.  Craig third from right in the back row.

George Craig was the son of Archie ‘Baldie’ Craig of Bellahouston Harriers who had won the national cross-country title in 1913 and five cross-country international vests and the younger brother of Archie, junior, who was a member of Shettleston Harriers and ran for Scotland in the cross-country international in 1938 and 1939.   There have been many remarkable family groups in Scottish athletics – Dundee’s Hasketts and Gunstones, Greenock’s Spence brothers and others.   No one has had a father and two sons run for Scotland to the best of my knowledge, although the Brown family from Motherwell came close – Andy and brother Alex both represented the country but although father Andy was a very good runner, he never had a Scotland vest.

George was the younger of the two brothers and he first came to prominence in 1935 at the age of 16 when he won the Scottish Youths National Cross-Country Championship.   The Glasgow Herald reported on the race as follows:

“As was generally expected, Springburn Harriers with three of last year’s winning team available, scored a comfortable victory in the Youths championship.   ….  There was however a surprise in the individual race, G Craig (Shettleston Harriers) bowling over several more fancied candidates.   It was in a way a remarkable performance for a Youth of 16 years, particularly as this was but the third race he has taken part in.   He is the son of A Craig, the well-known member of the  SAAA  committee who won the national championship in 1913 and who figured in several internationals.”

The Shettleston Youths team was second but the following year, when Craig was the only winner from 1935 to retain his Scottish title, they won comfortably from Victoria Park: 17 points to 54.   In both seasons – 1934/35 and 1935/36 – he won the club youth cross-country championship.

The Shettleston team at the time was very strong and the young Craig was not a counting runner in championship teams for several years.   Even the detailed Shettleston Harriers centenary history next mentioned him in season 1938/39 when he won the National Novice Championship at Hamilton Racecourse from more than 300 runners.   Missing the national championship in 1939, he ran in the 22nd April 1939 Edinburgh to Glasgow on 22nd April on the third stage (big brother Archie ran second) and was second fastest on his stage with the club in third place.

The war started that year and athletics  suspended until after the hostilities had ceased.  Both brothers served  during the war with George in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and Archie was a dispatch rider with the RAF.


George was next to appear in the records at the start of the 1946/47 when he was a member of the Shettleston team that finished fourth behind Maryhill Harriers.  He ran the second fastest time for the club (16:47) – only three seconds behind Charlie McLennan.   Two weeks later he was part of a team that was fourth in the Dundee Kingsway Relay

The District Championships were held at Hamilton Race course on 25th January, 1947, and George was third behind Andy Forbes of VPAAC and B Cairns of his own club to see Shettleston finish second.    According to Eddie Taylor’s report for the Scots Athlete, four men dominated the race – the three mentioned plus W Lamont of Victoria Park.   All four had been mentioned in Emmet Farrell’s preview in  his “Running Commentary” column which also had an eye on the comin international in Paris.   He had this to say of Craig:   George Craig of Shettleston, son of an ex-cross-country internationalist, and brother of Archie Craig, also an ex-internationalist, is beginning to show some form at the right time, and may be Forbes’s chief rival for the individual title.   Twice winner of the national Youths Championship, and also of the Novice Championship, his promising career was interrupted through the war, but he may well fulfil his early promise – and a trip to Paris is well within his capabilities.”

However when it came to the national, he fought hard and started off well up with the leaders but dropped off the pace and eventually came in in fourteenth place.   The team finished fourth.

He added to this total in the SAAA championship six miles at Hampden on 21st June.   Report from AD McDonald in the ‘Scots Athlete:  “George Craig of Shettleston had a nice win in the six miles, but though the track was heavy the time was nothing great, possibly because the first three miles was run at what seemed like a crawl.   Nevertheless Craig’s judgment was good,  and his first senior track title should give him confidence for the future.   Alex McLean, who was runner-up, was not the man we saw winning the ten miles championship in April, and looked over his peak.   From the spectator’s point of view, it was a pity that holder JE Farrell ( very wisely in view of his marathon commitments) did not take up the field.   He would at least have shaken up the field a bit and we might have got a truer picture of Craig’s abilities.”

His winning time was 32:17.6 with Alex McLean (0f Bellahouston) second.

Into winter 1947/48 and on 4th October the McAndrew Relay at Scotstoun was the first serious race.   Craig was on the second stage where he took over outside the first half dozen runners but handed over in the lead with a time of 16:28 – a lead which the team held until the finish.   Two weeks later it was the Dundee Kingsway Relay where Shettleston fin ished second to Victoria Park with Craig on the second stage again and this time, although he moved into first place with half a mile to go, he was passed by Mitchell of Edinburgh Southern Harriers.   Still with the relays on 6th December, Craig was in the winning team in the Midland District Relay at Motherwell.   Running on the second stage he ran the second fastest time for the day, only three seconds behind Bobby Boyd of Clydesdale Harriers.    In the Midland Championships on 7th February, 1948,  Craig ran well enough to be third behind Boyd of Clydesdale and Lennie of Vale of Leven with his club team in third place.

In his preview of the National in 1948, Emmet Farrell quoted Craig as a possible winner but had this to say: “Geo. Craig of Shettleston, the 6 miles champion, is another runner who is fit, strong and keen, and with the vast experience of his father, an ex-champion himself to guide him.   Nevertheless he has still to pass the acid test of the National Championship.”       

In the National at Hamilton  he finished third, and won the Scottish Junior Championship, only 14 seconds behind the winner, JE Farrell.   He was selected for the international at Reading on April 3rd.   Craig was running so well at this point that he was named by Farrell as a potential Olympic representative for the Games later that year: “Scottish 6 miles track champion, George Craig of Shettleston Harriers, is listed as a “possible” for the 10000 metres.   After trying for cross-country honours, George is likely to have a short rest, and then in his own words, ‘have a go at the 6 miles event.   Sharp 2 miles for speed are likely to figure in his track schedule.”     In the actual international cross-country, Craig was last counter for the Scottish team that finished  fifth with his 38 place across the line, one place behind Jim Flockhart.   The Tour de Spa invitational cross-country was a very prestigious race at the time and the Scottish contingent was made up of Alex McLean (6th), George Craig (12th) and Jim Flockhart (18th).   In the ‘Scots Athlete’ of May 1949, Emmet Farrell remarked that McLean’s performance was a very good one, and that the usual five nations were augmented by Sweden and Czechoslovakia on a trail near the Forest of Ardennes.    Two international races in a matter of weeks was valuable experience for the young Scot.   Racing with the likes of Flockhart and McLean could not have done him the slightest harm!

In the summer of ’48, Craig probably took part in most if not all the two mile team races thatwere available and popular among runners at the time.   For instance, on 22nd May at Ibrox in the Bellahouston Harriers Sports, Craig was part of the winning Shettleston team that won the two miles team in which Andy Forbes (VPAAC) was the winner in 9 min 24.9 sec;  his own club won their own two mile team race on 7th June at Ibrox, and there were several others at such sports as Gourock and Babcock’s.

On 12th June, Craig again tackled the 6 miles in the championships, and again he lined up against Alex McLean.   “Only seven entrants and five starters in the six miles was not very impressive when distance running is considered to be so popular among the athletes.   Ten miles champion Alex McLean (Bellahouston H) brightened affairs with grand running to win in ‘best championship’ time of 30 min 54.7 sec, which was 7.3 sec better than than the time set up by JE Farrell in 1938.”

The result:   1.   A McLean  30:54.7;   2.   G Craig (Shettlestom H);  3.   R McCormack (Lochwinnoch H).

After the championships were over the season progressed with several two and three miles individual and team races including such meetings as the Edinburgh Highland Games where there was a handicap three miles, in which his club participated.

1948/49:   Craig was not in the first team for the McAndrew Relay at the start of October.   The Midland Relay was held at Stirling on 4th December and Shettleston ran out the winners.   He did run this time,  on the first stage and handed over ‘a nice lead’, having run the sixth fastest time of the day, which his club maintained to the end.   Craig also missed the District Championships in the new year too.

In his preview of the national in 1949, Farrell thought that Craig would make the international team, saying  “Geo. Craig is essentially a cross-country type rather than a track runner.   He has apparently recovered from a stubborn period of staleness and is looking in good shape.   An experienced pacer with the confidence of previous selection, last year’s Scottish Junior champion will be difficult to displace.”

On the day, the conditions were really bad – “the worst,” said Emmet Farrell, “For 30 years.”  Nevertheless Craig ran well enough to be seventh and gain international selection.   Shettleston won the team race and were encouraged thereby to contest the English cross-country championships where they were fifth out of fifty three teams.  With 600 competitors it was a major undertaking, and their men all ran well with Craig in nineteenth.   Meanwhile, back at home the selectors had the problem of picking a team after Andy Forbes came a cropper in the national.   He clearly had to go in  he was too good to eave out – and the difficult selection came down to Stuart of Shettleston or Craig of Shettleston.  Stuart had been one place ahead of Craig in the national, but Stuart (after a leg problem, was 65th in the English race.   Farrell’s ear was always close to the ground and he said: “Although Stuart had the slight edge on his Scottish performance, the latter’s good performance in the English championships, coupled with a doubt concerning the latter’s fitness may have swung the scales just in Craig’s favour.” 

In the international itself at Baldoyle Racecourse in Dublin, Craig was third Scot to finish when he was 32nd.

The Edinburgh to Glasgow that year was in April and of course George was in the team   The two stiffest tests in the race were always on the second and sixth stages.   This year he was on the sixth stage, the longest in the race at 7 miles, where he turned in the fastest time of the day – 33:01, W Williamson of  Greenock Glenpark and Alex McLean of Bellahouston – to keep his team in first place, which is where they finished.   On the track, there was another second place to Alex McLean in the Six Miles at the SAAA Championships on 25th June,   McLean’s time was 31:04.8.    That third medal in three years at the championships was the high spot of the year – at the end of the summer, in his review of that season, Emmet Farrell did not mention either Craig or McLean.

GBC 48 Reding

In the International at Reading, 1948

It was on to the 1949-50 cross-country challenges.    In the McAndrew Relay at Scotstoun on 1st October, Shettleston was second behind Victoria Park but Craig was not in any of the three teams.    Nor was he present at Dundee Kingsway where there were two Shettleston teams, the first of which finished second.   The Midland District Relay was run on 5th November but Craig was not in either of the club teams.    But when the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight stage relay came around on 21st November – the second running in 1949, George Craig was there on the hard, six mile, second stage.   He ran the equal second fastest time behind Chic Robertson of Dundee and the team won from Victoria Park.   On 4th February when all thoughts were starting to turn to the national championships, he competed in the Midland District championship at Motherwell and was second Shettleston runner home in sixth position for the team that won gold.

In his preview of the National, Emmet Farrell said that “George Craig is an ex-6 mile champion, and therefore a more than useful track runner, yet I feel he is essentially a cross-country type.   Craig, an ex-youth and novice champion, has perhaps not quite fulfilled his brilliant early promise.  Nevertheless he has run some grand races over the country and in my estimation is a much under rated runner.   So far he has not shown particularly brilliant form this season yet I feel that when the time comes, he will be challenging hotly for a place in the team.It is difficult to leave him out of a short leet.”

In the race itself he finished fifth and Farrell commented: Most surprising performance was that of young George Craig.   The Shettleston runners form recently has been moderate.   But on this occasion he ran with verve and tenacity, was up with the leading bunch all the way and indeed at times looked a likely winner.”    

Shettleston won the team race and he was selected for the international.  Before that however, the club sent a team to the English national where they were third with Craig leading the team home in 13th position.   The others were Bickerton 16th, Flockhart 24th, Wallace 26th, Howard 80th and Ross 83rd.   Then it was on to the international.

The event was held in Brussels and featured 10 nations – a record number – including newcomers Italy, Holland and Belgium, along with Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France, Spain and Switzerland.  Craig finished 55th and the team was seventh.

GBC 49 E-G0005

That summer was the first for several years that Craig did not contest the six miles at the championships in June, and it was on to the winter season.   There had been no indication of illness or injury in the previous year and this year too Craig had a slow start.   Farrell mentions twice that I can find that Craig was ‘lightly raced’ and certainly his winter programme never seemed to embrace all the classics every year, and by classics I mean McAndrew relay, Kingsway relay, E-G, Nigel Barge as well as the District and National relays and District and National Championships.    In 1950/51 he missed the McAndrew and Kingsway relays which meant that he was in the second team for the Midland relays at Stepps on 4th November.   He was fastest in the second team but slower than all of the first team (finished second).   This set him up for a good run where, despite missing the start of the season, he was asked to run the sixth stage again.   Taking over in first place, he stayed first with third fastest time of the day (34:56) behind Andy Forbes (34:13) and Tommy Tracey (34:38).   Johnny Stirling took Victoria Park back into the lead on the last leg to see them win and Shettleston finish second.   Craig then missed the Nigel Barge 5 mile road race at Marhill at the very start of January but turned out in the District Championships on 3rd February where he was second club man to finish when he was ninth (Bannon was second) and the team was again second to VPAAC.   Emmet Farrell’s preview of the national read “I cannot see Tracey or Craig as serious challengers for the individual title yet I feel that they are reasonably certain of forward places and individual selection. … Craig has been more lightly raced, and strength and reserve can be telling factors in a gruelling race.”   Unlike many modern commentators, Emmet was never afraid to nail his colours to the mast and this at times led to judgments that were a bit off in events where the subjective feelings and actions of individuals were involved .   As far as Tracey and Craig in 1951 were concerned he was a bit off.   After a mix-up at the start where both Forbes and Tracey missed the gun and started behind the field, the race turned out to be between just those two with Forbes getting the win  with Tracey runner-up.   Craig was down in twelfth place and completely out of the reckoning for international selection.   He was again second club man (behind Ben Bickerton) in the team that finished third (VPAAC and Springburn).   He had seen his last Scottish international vest.   There were to be no more dark blue vests for the Craig family.


He ran well enough in 1951/52 to be Shettleston  Club Cross-Country Champion but he never again appeared in any championship race, missing all District and National relays and championships.   What was the story?   Well, Emmet Farrell in his preview of the 1952 national commented that “There is a whisper that George Craig, who threatened retiral last season, and is at present residing in Ireland, has resumed the sport and if this is correct and he enters – well, George would still have to be watched.”   It would seem that the whisper was inaccurate for George did not compete again in Scotland.

It had been a short career but an excellent one, if falling slightly short of the brilliance that it had once promised but one of which he can be proud.


Andrew T Ferguson

AT Ferguson

Andrew T Ferguson died on 1st March 2016, at the age of 87. A member of English club Highgate Harriers, he had a fairly long athletic career but although he was undoubtedly a very good runner, he never held a Scottish championship title or won any cross-country representational honours.   Indeed he hardly ever ran in Scotland yet won a Scottish vest on the track and finished second in the national.

Not mentioned in the Scottish athletic press in 1948 or 1949, he burst on the scene in 1950.   In his preview of the National cross-country championship of that year, Emmet Farrell in “The Scots Athlete” bracketed Ferguson alongside Andy Forbes, Tom Tracey, CD Robertson and the rests as a contender for the title.   He went on to say “My nomination of AT Ferguson may occasion some surprise, but if this Anglo-Scot feels he has entirely thrown off the effects of a recent leg injury he will make the journey north to try for his place; and one can be sure that if he elects to travel, his bid will be a serious one.   Ferguson is a most promising young runner with a brilliant turn of speed.    He can stay, too, as he recently demonstrated by finishing fourth in the Middlesex championships to Olney, ahead of such well-known runners as Hughes, Burfitt and Blowfield.   Though he may be a menace to home aspirants, he could be a distinct asset to a Scottish team and that is the main thing.”

Unfortunately he was not in the line-up on the day but his ability that had earned Emmet’s high opinion was there for all to see during the summer.

His running over the summer was all done south of the border but in the AAA’s championships, won by Lucien Theys of Belgium, he was second to Olney in a blanket finish with the places and times being 1.   L Theys  14:07;   2.   A Olney 14:11.2;   3.   A Ferguson 14:11.6;   4.   W Lucas  14:11.6;   5.   F Green 14:14.6.      At the time his 14:11.6 was a Scottish best but because  of the rules existing at the time, it was not officially recognised as a record.   Not selected for the European Games, Ferguson  was, however, selected for Scotland in the international against England, Wales and Ireland at 5000m.   The other Scot was Tommy Tracey and they finished third and fourth with Ferguson timed at 15:34.2 for third.    First and second were Olney (14:48) and Lucas (14:56.8).

In the summer, 1950, Ferguson represented Scotland in the international against England, Wales and Ireland at 3 miles , finishing 3rd. That year, he was second to the Belgian Lucien Theys in the AAA Championship 3 miles in 14:11.6. At the time, the performance was a Scottish best although it was not officially recognised as a record because of the rules in force at the time.

The “Scots Athlete” had a ranking list for Scottish athletes of 1950 and Ferguson was included at at number 6 of the 20 ranked.  the comments read: “Recently made a life member of his club on account of his international recognition.   3rd position and 2nd British finisher in the AAA 3 miles with 14:11.6 (compare with Andy Forbes’ brilliant Scottish record of 14:18.2) and also 6 mins 49 secs for one and a half miles.”

The cover of “The Scots Athlete” for February, 1951 was of Ferguson winning the 7 miles Middlesex cross-country championship which he won.   Inside Emmet Farrell began his preview of the national by saying, “Over the gruelling nine miles test I cannot help feeling that quite a number of last year’s team will again be well in the running for places.   If Anglo-Scot AT Ferguson of Highgate Harriers decides to run he would be favourite for the individual title.   He has great speed, as witness his 14 min 11 sec odd in last year’s AAA 3 Miles championships and can stay too as he showed in winning the Middlesex cross-country championship over 7 miles.    Against that the 22-year-old could find at this stage 9 miles more testing than 7 miles.   Nevertheless the services of such a classy runner would be a great asset to a Scottish team and our selectors will no doubt follow his form with more than passing interest, even if he does not manage up for our race … ”   

Unfortunately Ferguson was missing when the national was run and was not in the team for the international.

Walter Ross who founded, printed, wrote for and subsidised “The Scots Athlete” was a wonderful man.   In addition to all that, doing his day-job, having a happy family life, running almost every day of the week, he kept up a correspondence with may people all over the world.   It was natural that he should start writing to Andrew Ferguson and in December, 1951, he published this letter from him.   As he says, it was not written to be printed, but he took the correct decision I think in letting us see it.

AF Letter 1AF Letter 20004

His exploits were not recorded in Scotland until Emmet Farrell, Walter’s friend and sidekick on the magazine,  who always had a hand on the pulse of British athletics, said in his preview of the national, “Down South there is Anglo Andy Ferguson of Highgate Harriers at last returning to the form which made him one of Britain’s best distance prospects.   Previously Ferguson has shown brilliance on the track and over country, and if he retains his present form and comes up for our national, which he is planning, then sparks will fly.”    The highlight was the national of 1952.   This was held on 1st March, 1952, at Hamilton Racecourse and the top man in Scotland was Eddie Bannon of Shettleston Harriers.  Emmet Farrell previewed  the race in “The Scots Athlete” as follows:

“A “GRAND” NATIONAL.   There are prospects of a very keen race in the National both for the individual honour and international places.   The individual race may resolve itself into a contest between Eddie Bannon of Shettleston Harriers and the grand Anglo Scot Andrew Ferguson of Highgate Harriers, with odds on the former pulling it off.   With some trepidation, I select the following as my first six home and in this order:   1.   E Bannon (Shettleston);   2.   A Ferguson (Highgate;   3.   A Forbes (Victoria Park);    4.   T Tracey (Springburn Harriers);   5.   T Stevenson (Greenock Wellpark);   6.   CD Robertson (Dundee Thistle).

A brave man was Emmet.   As for the race, Colin Shields reported in “Whatever the Weather” –

“Bannon faced the challenge of Anglo Scot Andrew Ferguson of Highgate Harriers who had recorded the Scottish record time of 14 minutes 11.6 seconds for 3 miles when finishing runner-up in the 1950 AAA’s championships.   Ferguson had some outstanding cross-country runs in England to his credit but was outclassed by Bannon who ran away with the individual title defeating Ferguson by 57 seconds with Tommy Tracey taking third position ahead of Andy Forbes.”   

Result:   1.   E Bannon (Shettleston ) 49:24;   2.   AT Ferguson (Highgate H)   50:21;   3.   T Tracey (Springburn H)   50:34;   4.   A Forbes (VPAAC)   51:03;   5.   T Stevenson (Greenock Wellpark)   51:16;   6.   CD Robertson (Dundee Thistle)   51:29;   7.   I Binnie (Victoria Park);   8.   AC Gibson (Hamilton H);   9.   CD Forbes (Victoria Park);   10.   A Black (Dundee Hawkhill).

Emmet had the first six exactly right with only Forbes and Tracey switching places.

Unfortunately Ferguson had to pull out of the national and this was indeed as described by Emmet Farrell “a distinct loss” but his summer season started well, although  he missed the SAAA and the AAA championships and, as far as the press was concerned, ran seldom  in Scotland.   Nevertheless at the end of the season he was ranked third Scot behind Andy Forbes and Tom Tracey by Emmet Farrell in “The Scots Athlete.”

In the “Scots Athlete” of May, 1952, Farrell referred to ‘Ferguson’s southern success’ saying Andrew Ferguson whose inability to run for Scotland at Hamilton was such a distinct loss had a grand win in the Southern 6 miles championship in 30 min 41,4 sec, defeating such well-known runners as R Robbins, F Sando and |Harry Hicks.   What a race should Forbes and Ferguson meet in either 3 or 6 miles in the Scottish championships.” 

Unfortunately Ferguson did not run in the SAAA championships and was unplaced in a very good AAA title race but by the end of the season he had four very good times which placed him high in the Scottish rankings, all run in England.   For the mile he had a season’s best of 4:22.7 (3rd best Scot behind K Coutts, EUAC, and J Hendry, Elgin AAC);  for two miles he ran 9:31.6 (4th behind Bannon, Calderwood and Forbes); 14:27.6 for three miles (second behind Andy Forbes);   30:41.6  for six miles (second behind Ian Binnie ).

In 1953 there was no sign of Ferguson north of the border: he did not run any cross-country up here, nor was he seen on the track.  Not at the championships nor at any of the big invitation meetings.   He may have missed the season through illness or injury or been out of the sport for some reason but he was not ranked in the mile (where the list went down to 4:25.6); the three miles (down to 14:59.8) or the six miles where there were only two times ranked.(Binnie 28:53.4) and Breckenridge (31:58.0).

That seemed to be it as far as his participation in Scottish athletics was concerned – in truth he had never competed much here.   Despite the number of Scots at invitation meetings such as Edinburgh Highland Games or the Rangers Sports, and even when a AAA’s team competed here, AT Ferguson was not to be seen.   His appearances over the country were almost as rare.   He did continue to compete right on to the veteran stage – note the obituary by Alistair Aitken below – and he ran a good London marathon in 2:39:48 at the age of 53.

When he died, Alastair Aitken noted journalist and a member of Highgate Harriers had this to say about Ferguson:

Andy Ferguson, one of the older Highgate Harriers, was a real lively character. He sadly died on the 1st of March.   Andy was passionate, in his days, for Highgate Harriers not to amalgamate. He thought they stood better alone.
Andy Ferguson had a long athletic career, and he went on to run a good London marathon, as an M50. At 53 he ran 2:39.48 but, his fame was long before that. He won the Junior North of Thames in 1948 and, the strongly contested, Senior North of Thames cross country Championships in 1951.
He represented Scotland, as a cross country international, coming second in their Championships in 1952 and, back in 1950 he ran 14.11.6 for 3 miles in the AAA’s Championships at the White City, coming second to the Belgian Lucien Theys who ran 14.09.0. Before that, he set a Scottish 3 miles Scottish Native record in 1949, when he was 3rd in the AAA’s in 14.11.02.
Ferguson also ran in races at the White City with Pirie and Zatopek. The latter he congratulated when Emil won and, said how nice Emil Zatopek was.

Andrew Thomson Ferguson, b. 7 November 1928, d. 1 March 2016.

Rome, 1960

Alex Br

There have been several very good ex-pat Scots who have competed with distinction in the colours of another country – Mike Ryan in the Mexico Olympics, Paul Bannon in the Edmonton Commonwealth Games are the outstanding examples in modern times.   Early in the twentieth century   Jimmy Duffy ran for Canada after a good career in Scotland and ran in the Stockholm Olympics.

However there is another who is seldom spoken of – born in Buffalo, NY, he lived in Glasgow and ran for Victoria Park AC, setting Scottish records and winning titles.   Alex Breckenridge moved to the United States, had an equally distinguished career there and was selected for the 1960 Olympics in Romeo.   Then in the Tokyo race, Abebe Bikila won after a great duel with Moroccan Abdesselem Rhadi.   The ‘Scots Athlete’ was only a memory and there was no sports magazine in Scotland which could have covered it.   So Breckenridge in the Olympics did not feature very much at all on these shores.

The 1960 Games were a source of great disappointment for British distance runners – apart from the fact that there was only one “Scot” in any of the distance events, and he an Anglo who seldom set foot north of the Border – did not make the Scots feel any better.  Have a look at the men and their performances.

Marathon:   Denis O’Gorman   16th  2:24:16.2     Arthur Keily   25th   2:27:00   Brian Kilby   29th   2:28:55

10000m:   John Merriman   8th   Martin Hyman   9th   Gordon Pirie   10th

5000m:   Frank Salvat  7th Heat 1;   Gordon Pirie  8th Heat 3   Bruce Tulloh   4th Heat 4

Steeplechase:   Eric Shirley   10th Heat 1   Dave Chapman   6th Heat 2     Mike Palmer   8th Heat 3

1500m:   Laurie Reed  9th Heat 1    Brian Kent-Smith  4th Heat 2    Mike Wiggs   sixth Heat 3

800m:   Brian Hewson   4th Heat 1   Tom Farrell   1st Heat 2    J Wenk  3rd Heat 5

Out of these runners only one made the second round – Farrell in the 800m where he was eliminated in the second of four rounds.    The British (and Scottish) Press was so busy criticising them as a group and, in some cases, as individuals that there was no time left at all for commenting on Breckenridge’s selection.   He had better Scottish credentials than either  of the two who had worn the dark blue – Bruce Tulloh was Scottish until England asked him to run for them, and John Wenk was an Anglo whose connection with Scotland was rather tenuous.

Alex’s career has been dealt with on another page, see the link above, but a quick recap is maybe in order.   He was born in Buffalo, New York, on 17th April 1932, and christened Alexander Dalglish Neilson Breckenridge.   Brought up in Scotland he won national titles as a Junior and as a Senior and ran in the world cross-country championships for Scotland in 1953.    An excellent athlete he had personal bests of  4:13.8 for the Mile,  8:56.8i for Two Miles, 14:32.1 for 5000 metres, 30:47.0 for 10000 metres, and a Marathon best of 2:27:17 set in 1962.

The 1960 Games Marathon was a very dramatic race: run in the dark, from Capitoline Hill to the finish line at Arch of Constantine.   Bikila ran barefoot and ran almost all the way with rival Abdesselem Rhadi of Morocco, only escaping to victory with 500 yards to go.   It was a real sensation of a result and the world’s press was caught on the hop – Bikila had only been added to the team at the last moment as a replacement for Wami Biratu, there was little information about him in print and reporting was all about the first two finishers.

The other major story of the Games was of the close-knit Arthur Lydiard group’s successes: Peter Snell drew himself to the world’s attention when he won the 800m from Roger Moens of Belgium, Murray Halberg (whose withered arm proved a source of wonder for the journalists present) won the 5000m from Grodotzki of Germany and Barry Magee was third in the marathon.   Stories about the athletes and their coach proliferated.

With two stories like these, and other events and other sports to cover, there was little room – in even the most Scottish of Scottish papers – for coverage of others in the 26.2 mile event.

The story of Breckenridge’s selection is an interesting one.   I quote:

In the spring of 1960, the 19th April Boston Marathon provided the next great racing opportunity.   Finland’s Paavo Kotila came over to race, took the lead near 11 miles, and no one could catch him (2:20:54).   “Johnny the Younger” Kelley was expected to give him a fight but was hobbled by a heel blister and dropped out at 20 miles.   Gordon McKenzie of the United States was runner-up in 2:22:18.   This caused a problem for the United States team selection as Kelley was of Olympic calibre but stated policy required that athletes desiring a team berth had to finish both the Boston race and the AAU championship at Yonkers on May 22.   Kelley went on to win at Yonkers for a record fifth time in a course record of 2:20:13.6 and McKenzie was runner-up.   A Marine, Alex Breckenridge, finished fourth at Boston and third at Yonkers.   McKenzie and Breckenridge were named for the United States team, and a recommendation was made that Kelley be the third man on the basis of previous excellence and his recent good performance.   This recommendation was approved.”

The  course was described as a tour through Roman history and Bikila’s winning time was world best performance by 0.8 seconds, and the first Olympic marathon sub 2:20.   There were four others under this barrier, it was the fastest marathon in Olympic history with 61 under 3 hours compared to 53 at Helsinki

Breckenridge finished thirtieth, one place behind Britain’s Brian Kilby who won both European and Commonwealth marathons in 1962.   Behind him were Watanabe of Japan and four of the top eight were Africans.   Breckenridge’s time of 2:29:38 would have placed him seventh in 1956 and ninth in 1952.   In Rome he was thirtieth.

He was one place behind Britain’s marathon specialist Brian Kilby and among those behind him was the great Alain Mimoun.   Breckenrdge had had a good run in a very fast race obscured as far as the Scottish press was concerned by Bikila’s win and the emergence of Arthur’s boys.

Robert Cameron

RCX Gateshead5K 81

Gateshead 5000m, 1991

For all that the Scottish distance running fraternity is a relatively small group with everyone known to everyone else, there is from time to time a good quality athlete who is not as well known as he might be.   Robert Cameron is one such.    He first came to my own attention back in the early to mid eighties when I was Scottish Secretary of the British Milers Club and he was a young member of the club.   He was in the Junior Man age group – which at that time included such as Stuart Paton, Tom McKean and Brian Whittle with Alistair Currie not far behind as an Under 17 Youth.   The standard was high but nevertheless Robert held his own with victories in the Scottish championships, international selections and fast times.   He was good enough to reply to the questionnaire and we can start with that.


Robert (left) at the Scottish Schools

Name:   Robert Cameron

Date of Birth:   1st February 1964

Occupation:   Deputy Head Teacher in a primary school in Bradford, Yorkshire

Clubs:  Central Region AC 1979 – 1985; Newham & Essex Beagles  1985 – 1991; Falkirk Victoria Harriers  1987 – 1994; Bridgend AC  1992 – 1994

.   My dad, William Cameron ( a miler and British Army champion between 1943 and 1945 who turned pro after the war) took me along to Central Region AC and to William Murray the local coach in Alloa.

Has any individual or group had a marked effect on your attitude to the sport or to your performances?   My very first coach very quickly got me competing at international school level (1980 in Lincoln) and we were regulars at National Event Squad  sessions with Alex Naylor and Bob Steele.   It was from here in 1981 that I joined Alex’s squad until going to Loughborough in 1985 and eventually joined Brian Scobie in 1987, then the min influence on my athletics career was, and still is, Andy Currie (and wife Pat) who took me al over to race and became a big part of my life.   The friendship with Alistair and Alan Currie is lifelong and very supportive.

Can you describe your general attitude to the sport?   Without a doubt athletics made me what I am, gave me confidence and maturity to develop my career in education.

What did (or do you) get out of the sport?   A strong sense of achievement, personal satisfaction, friendships which are lifelong (Alistair and Alan and my bridesmaid Lynne McDougall).   I have team-managed for England, I continue to team-manage for North of England on road and cross-country.   I’m secretary of the West Yorkshire Schools Athletic Association, and I’m heavily involved with race organisation, with the Leeds Abbey Dash pulling together the elite and the international race.   This I have done for over six years.

What were your best ever performances?  

800m:   1980  Euro Youth   1:54.6          1500m   1989   3:45.1

3000m:   1986:   7:59.1     5000m:   1986   14:04

10K (Road):   1984:   29:58

1981 Nations Cup   (World Schools)   Birmingham   5th in 800m

Can you give some information about your training?   Well, this is one of the first problems.   As a young man my mileage was high, 80+ miles per week, which caused endless knee problems.   My best period without a doubt was with Brian Scobie where my mileage was on average about 45 mpw, training twice a day which included a gym session of stretching for 45 minutes each lunchtime and a 4 miles tempo run  after this session three times a week.   The same general conditioning work in the gym in winter + hills and fartlek grass sessions whichhelped my knee.   In summer 12 x 400m session with short recovery, 5 x 1000m etc.

When did you stop racing and why did you stop racing?   In around 1991, due to work (in Wales) and knee problems I struggled to find a group to work with until joining Bridgend AC with Steve Brace, I had another three years.   I eventually succumbed to work and I jury in 1994.

That’s where the questionnaire ends and it raises several interesting questions and comments.   eg the big miles in the 80’s were not only the prescribed dosage in Alloa and Stirling: the marathon boom was in full swing and it was not a question of whether you did big miles or not, it was whether you did them hard or easy.   Bad enough for grown men, but worse still for youngsters with developing joints and muscles.   Interesting too that his best running was when he was doing quality plus stretching and mobility work with Brian Scobie.   After that we should look at Robert’s actual career in the sport.

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Robert leading for the Scottish League against the Scottish Universities

Robert started the 1979-80 season on 20th October 1979 running the last leg of the East District Young Athletes Relay championship.   The Central Region AC B team was  thirteenth with Robert’s time being 10:28.      He missed the national relays at Aberdeen on 27th October but he was out in the next championship – the East District Youths event on 19th January 1980 in Falkirk where he finished seventh and led the club to victory with counting runners being  7th, 9th and 10th.   In the national on 9th February at the Magnum Sports Centre in Irvine, he was seventeenth in the Youths race which was won by Ross Copestake from Adrian Callan.   The club was out of the medals being fifth team to finish.

The first notable track victory of Robert’s track career was winning the Scottish schools 3000m in June 1980.    Running in Group B, the second oldest group for schools athletics, he won in 9:01.0 which gained him selection for the schools international, held in Lincoln that year where he finished fourth.   That was his first real season in athletics and a Scottish Schools title and international representation was a very good omen for future involvement in the sport.

In season 1980-81   he ran in the East District cross-country where he was fourth in the  Youths (U17) race with team also fourth.  He missed the national and headed into the summer which came early for Robert and he finished second in a 5000m on 18th April in a creditable 15:31.   A month later and down two distances he ran 1:54.6 for 800m at Grangemouth to be second placed in what would be his best time of the season.

Robert had a good start to the summer when he won the East District junior 1500m at the end of May in 3:58.04, 5 seconds clear of J Blair in second.  Schools age groups are slightly different from those of the national governing body being arranged in ‘even years’.  It is usual for runners to be second year in schools age groups when they are first year for all other athletic purposes.  Robert, now in the oldest grouping for schools, won the 1981 Scottish Schools 1500m in 4:00.8 at the start of June by one second from Antony O’Hara and was picked for the European schools event in Birmingham where he ran in the 800m, finishing fifth.   The summer progressed to the SAAA championships at Meadowbank on 21st June where Robert was first in the SAAA junior (Under 20) 1500m in 3:56.86 – almost three seconds clear of J Harold in second.   This was his first national track championship, other than the schools of course.

At the end of 1981 Robert was ranked twenty ninth among Scottish seniors in the 800m with his best time of 1:54.6 (which also placed him sixth in the juniors rankings) and thirty fourth among the seniors, fifth junior, in the 1500m with a time of 3:56.3.   He was also ranked in the 5000m with his best time of 15:31.0, quoted above, in seventh junior position.

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 Grangemouth 1982

As usual Robert followed a good winter’s work running in all the main races with a successful culmination in the international Rome in March. A look at the main championships shows his good running.

In January 1982 in the East District Championships as a first year junior but still racing against senior men, Robert finished twenty third and then on 27th February in the big race,  he was sixteenth in the National at Irvine in very good company – 13th was Neil Tennant, 14th was Nigel Gemmell and 15th was Peter Faulds.   He then won the Scottish schools cross-country.   In the world junior cross-country championships in Rome on 21st March, Robert actually led the Scottish team home when he finished twenty ninth of ninety three finishers and was awarded the Jock D Semple Cup as first Scottish finisher.   The interesting thing about this is that in the SCCU championships the finishing order for the Rome team had been Gordon Mitchell second, Anglo Stuart Paton fourth and Ian Steel fourth and all in front of Robert but came the international, the order was Cameron 29th, Mitchell 44th, Paton 50th and Steel 61st.

Robert always ran well in the schools championships and summer ’82 was no exception.   In June he won the 1500m in Group A for the second year  in succession in the excellent time of 3:55.5.  Bob McKirdy was second in 3:59.3.   Later in the month he was second in the Scottish junior 1500m championship behind Stuart Paton of Belgrave ,  AAA junior 1500m champion that year, who was a very good runner indeed but one not known too well in Scotland since he so seldom competed north of the border.  Paton ran 3:52.3 and Cameron 3:55.2.   Robert them stepped up to the 5000m at Grangemouth on 11th July and won in 15:12.1.    Back down to 1500m on 7th August at  Meadowbank for a Junior International he was fourth in 3:53.70.   A month later, right at the tail end of the season, he ran an 800m in 1:56.67 to finish sixth.

By the end of summer 1982 he was ninth ranked junior over 800m with his 1:56.67 and third ranked 1500m runner with 3:53.70

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World Cross 1983

At the start of the winter in 1982, Central Region AC did not enter teams in most of the road or cross-country relays so the first championship in which Robert competed was on 22nd January, 1983, and was the East District Championships. Here he was twenty sixth, immediately in front of local rivals from Falkirk Victoria, John Penetcost and Jim Evans.

The junior National was at the Jack Kane Sports Centre, Edinburgh, on 26th February and Robert was eighth across the line.  In the world cross-country championships at Gateshead, however, he was the winner of Jock D Semple cup for first Scottish finisher when he finished forty eighth.   Again, as in 1982, he performed better in the international than those ahead of him in the Scottish championships.   Order of counting runners (SCCU position in brackets) was Cameron 48th (8th), P Connaghan 64th (3rd), J McNeill 77th (1st), Alan Puckrin 98th (5th).

Summer 1983 was not a good one for Robert and by the end of the season in September he was not ranked at all in any event.   But when the new competition year of 1983-84 began,  Robert was running in a good Central Region four man relay team on 19th October in the East District Relay Championships.   He was fastest club runner by by 35 seconds when he ran the third stage and the team finished nineteenth.   There was unfortunately no club team entered in the National Relays and Robert’s next winter championship was in the East District championship on 28th January 1984 at Kirkcaldy.   Twelfth in a very good field  close behind Graham Laing, John  Pentecost, Archie Jenkins and Colin Youngson and immediately in front of Donald Bain, Nigel Jones, Doug Hunter, Evan Cameron and Jim Evans.   These names are listed to give an indication of the quality of Scottish endurance running at that time and to show that Robert was well up to that standard.

He felt the full force of that quality when he ran into 30th place in the Senior National at Irvine on 28th February in a race won by Nat Muir from Allister Hutton and Fraser Clyne.    With no international to compete in in 1984, Robert could concentrate on preparing for the track season.   And a successful season it was too – when the summer drew to a close at the end of September 1984 Robert was ranked in two events – the 1500m where he was twentieth with 3:50.4 and the 2000m where he has 5:18.5.

Robert didn’t run in either the East District or Natioal Relay Championships in October but on 10th November, 1984, Robert had one of his best ever races:  in the Glasgow University Road Race with a field of over 600 runners he finished a very good third being out-dipped  on the line by George Braidwood – the race was won by Nat Muir in 24:01 and all three were inside the existing record of 24:27.    He followed this with a second place behind Peter Fleming in the Rank Xerox Corporate Challenge 10K where he ran his personal best time of 29:58.

Robert ran in the East District championship that year but was unplaced, and on 23rd February, 1985, he was eighty fourth in the National in Edinburgh at the Jack Kane Sports Centre.    The summer of 1985 he was not ranked in any event at all which was probably down to injuries – his knee injuries were to be an unfortunate feature for the remainder of his career.

In 1985 Robert moved down south to study and started running for Newham & Essex Beagles whom he represented until 1991.   His coach at this time was still Alex Naylor and the distance was an added complication.   Add in  continuing knee injuries and this was not his best spell as an athlete.

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Robert in second running in the East District Championships, 1985 

Robert also missed every championship in winter 1985-86  but finished third the in Loughborough v AAA match that summer just behind Tim Hutchins, (7.59.39) who was in very good form that (Olympic) year after a good run in the world cross-country championships.   By the end of the year the annual rankings had him seventeenth in the 1500m with 3:50.8 and third in the 3000m with a best of 7:59.39 and his best of 14:04 for 5000m was also at least worthy of note.   Robert did not turn out in the District or National Relays, nor did he run in the District or National Championships in winter 1986-87 but in summer 1987, now training with Brian Scobie, he was beginning to run well again.   He ran well enough to be selected for the Small Nations International (called after the sponsors Dale Farm) on 29th/30th June but was unplaced in the 1500m.

Robert joined Falkirk Victoria Harriers in 1987 and, according to the rules, he could not run for them in any of the championships or team races that winter.  The injuries continued to plague him and college work took up more of his time and he missed two consecutive winters before coming back with a vengeance in summer 1989.   Training with Brian Scobie paid off that summer however and by the end of 1989 he was back in the annual rankings for the first time since 1986 with performances of 3:45.1 for 1500m, 8:25.42 for 3000m and 14:14.16 for 5000m which placed him sixth, twenty first and eighth respectively.   The 1500m time was to be a personal best.

 That winter (1989-90), although he missed both District and National Relay Championships, he had his first taste of the classic eight stage Edinburgh to Glasgow relay when he was asked to run on the second stage.  This was one of the more difficult legs with most clubs putting their top man out but Robert ran well and moved the club  up a place from twelfth to eleventh.   Living and studying in England, this was his last major race in Scotland that winter and the following season (summer 1990) he was not running well enough to be ranked in Scotland.

As in 1989-90, so Robert ran in only one big winter race in 1990-91 – the Edinburgh to Glasgow – where Falkirk won with Robert setting  them off when he ran the first stage finishing eighth and handing over to John Sherban.   His running in 1991 was again restricted but he did have a good 1500m time of 3:56.15 to show for it.   In summer 1991 he was ranked in only one event – the 3000m where he had a time of 8:29.24.

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Robert, number 110, in the East of Scotland Championship 1985

Robert’s career was one of remarkably good running interspersed by periods of almost complete inaction due to injury and studying.    These knee problems are still troubling him and at the time of writing (2016) he is awaiting an operation.    It has deprived him of a lot of rewards and Scotland of the services of a talented athlete.


Currently he is still involved in the sport having been a team manager for England on the road, for the North of England on the road and over the country, and secretary of West Yorkshire Schools Athletic Association.    His experiences have clearly stood him in good stead and the dangers of over training are probably being passed on to a new generation of schools athletes.


Judith Shepherd

Shepherd Judith 1979_NEW

Judith Shepherd (823) leading club mate Fiona McQueen in the 1979 Round the Walls race in Berwick where they finished first and second.

Judith Shepherd was an excellent runner who won three SWAAA titles over 3000m, two SWCCU championships and set one Scottish record but is a runner who is almost completely forgotten.    An internationalist, a runner who is still in the top ten athletes for the 3000m and the 5000m at Clemson University in the United States and an All America championship runner as well as a  three time competitor in the NCAA championships, she is a runner whose name is never mentioned at present.

Judith Shepherd was born on 19th March 1959 and was educated at Bearsden Academy.   When I was secretary of the British Milers Club back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I tried to get her into some of our races but by then she had gone on to Clemson University in the United States.   She was a very good athlete indeed and while she was at Clemson, Kerry Robinson was also a student, so there was a corner that was forever Scotland.   More recently, Andrew Lemoncello was a student at Clemson.

Judith’s career began in 1974 when she won the Scottish Schools  1500m championship in  5.04.6, defeating Ann Cherry of Pitreavie by 15 seconds.   Cherry had won the East District championship and went on to win the SWAAA title in the Intermediate age group.    Judith had by that time joined up with Western AAC – the short-lived but very good Glasgow club run by Tom Williamson.   Still an intermediate she was ranked in the senior 1500m with this time recorded when placing fifth at Meadowbank in the final league match of the season on 18th August but it was really only the 14th fastest among the inters.   Her best time over 800m was also at that meeting in Edinburgh where she won the event with 2:22.7 although it was only 17th fastest.   The times weren’t the fastest but Judith had won two important races.   By 1975 she was still an Intermediate and running for Western in their last year before merging in to the new Glasgow AC club.   The only time that I can find for 1975 was a 1500m in 5:08.8 run at Grangemouth on 17th August.

Into 1976, running for the new club and her first serious championship victory when she won the Scottish Schools 1500m in 4:51.1.   By the end of the summer her best time for 1500m was 4.48.6 which ranked her 14th and for 3000m 10.14.8 – always her stronger event – which ranked her 4th Scot behind the formidable trio of Mary Stewart, Christine Haskett and Penny Gunstone.   She was only 17 years old at the time.

Despite her ability at the longer distances, she had not yet appeared in the SWCCU championships and would not do so for another two years.   Meanwhile in summer 1977, on 24th April Judith ran a 3000m in the British League match at Coatbridge in 9:51.0.   Two weeks later on 7th May at Grangemouth Judith won the 3000m and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ reported on it.   “The longest distance at the meeting , the 3000 metres, was steadfastly gobbled up by   Judith Shepherd (Glasgow AC) in a meeting record time of 9 min 51.6 sec.   The Bearsden girl had no help from either her opponents or the conditions, and a season of some hard work must surely bring that time tumbling down.”     That same weekend she ran a 4:29.9 for the 1500m – a weekend that demonstrated pace and strength that would stand her in good stead for the rest of the summer.   In the East v West match on 22nd May at Meadowbank, she stepped down a distance and won the 1500m in 4:31.8.   At the end of May there was another 3000m on the 28th of the month where she recorded 9:40.4.

June was always national track championship month and Judith’s first 3000m was held on 4th June when she ran 9:36.2 – her fastest of the season so far.   A week’s break followed before a 1500m in 4:31.6 and an 800m in 2:15.6 both on the 19th.   The Scottish championships were held at Meadowbank on 25th June and Judith was second in the 1500m in 4:31.2 behind Margaret Coomber, and first in the 3000m in 9:39.2 which was more than 12 seconds ahead of Christine Price.

There was no slacking of competition after the SWAAA championships, however, and Judith ran a very good On 17th July it was a 1500m in 4:32.7, on 20th July the time was 4:28.8, on 30th July she ran 9:30.0 for the 3000m; in August it was 1500m on 14th in 4:28.9, 3000m in 9:20.0 on 13th and 9:41.1 on 20th.    Into September and she ran 9:43.7 on 3rd of the month in the international between  Scotland and Norway at Coatbridge to win the 3000m.

After what had been a very good year her best times were 800 2.15.6 (ranked 14), 1500m  4.26.5 (2), 1M 4.49.9 and  3000m 9.20.0 (1).    To elaborate, Judith had the top seven times by a Scot  and nine of the top ten at 3000m.   She also had 8 of the top 19 times at 1500m with only Margaret Coomber being faster.   In the all-time to 10, Judith was 5th in the 1500m and 3rd in the 3000m.

Although she hadn’t run the national cross-country championship as an inter or as a senior, she ran in 1978 and won the  SWCCU championships and was selected  for the team for world championships.   The world championships sounds like a glamorous affair but that year they were held in a wet and rainy Bellahouston Park.    The Glasgow AC runner was first Scot to finish when she crossed the line in twenty second place with Margaret Coomber back in 69th as second team runner.

1978 was a Commonwealth Games year and Judith, on the form shown in 1977 was a genuine candidate for selection and opened her season with 9:37.5 on 23rd April.   Into May and in the West District championships, held at Grangemouth on the 8th,   she won the 1500m in 4:34.   A week later, 14th May, she ran the 3000m for Scotland against Greece in the international in Athens and finished first in 9:40.5.

There was a midweek 3000m in 9:54.1 before the East v West confrontation at Meadowbank on 21st May where Judith won the 1500m in 4:30.1 for the West team that was well beaten by 260 to 195 points.   On 3rd June in the SWAAA Championships, she won the 3000m again in a time of 9:34.8 – 5 seconds faster than last year but not fast enough to count for selection.   There was however another international selection – this time against Norway in Larvik on 5th/6th July.    Clearly not her usual running, Judith was fourth of four in 10:02.9, well behind clubmate Fiona McQueen in third place with 9:47.2.    She returned exactly that time on 29th July too and then 9:49.7 on 20th August and 9: 51.4 on 26th August.

Her best times in ’77 were 4:26.5 and 9:20.0: in ’78 they were 4:30.1 and 9:34.8.   The top Scottish time for 3000m in ’78 was 9:32.3 by Fiona McQueen.    It seems fair to assume that she suffered injury or illness in 1978.    This impression gains strength when we look at her running in 1979.

Leslie Judith

Judith beating Leslie Roy to the tape at Coatbridge in 1978

 In February 1979 Judith won the SWCCU championship ‘in devastating fashion’ according to the ‘Glasgow Herald’ and ‘outclassed her rivals’ according to the Athletics Weekly but in any case she won by 150 yards.   The International was held on 24th March in Limerick and she was again the first Scot to finish but this time she was down in 44th of 96 runners.

On 12th May, Judith took part in the Scottish Cup competition at Coatbridge and was second to Carol Lightfoot in the 1500m who won in 4:27.  On 26th May in the British League match at Birmingham Judith was timed at 9:27.2 – the fastest time of the season by a Scot and 7 seconds better than 1978.   Thus early in the season it was a good omen.   Just how good was seen in the |British Meat Scottish Championships at Grangemouth on 16th June when she set a Scottish Native Record for the 3000m of 9:20.3 with Kerry Robinson of Pitreavie second.   They had come up through the ranks together and Judith had usually been on top.   Then two weeks later on 30th June, running for GB ‘B’ team against France ‘B’ Judith not only won the match 3000m but took six seconds off the record with a time of 9:14.1.    The international honours continued to come and on 23rd July she turned out for Scotland against Wales and Israel at Cwmbran.   This time Judith ran in the 1500m and won in 4:23.9 seconds as part of the winning Scottish team.   On July 30th the ‘Glasgow Herald’ reported that very few Scottish competitors took part in the Sunsilk WAAA Championships at Crystal Palace and Marea Hartman was quoted as saying that “some of the Scots girls admit that they cannot afford the travelling expenses”  although several girls did travel with Lynne McDougall (winner of the 1500m) and Linsey McDonald (intermediate 100m and 400m) being gold medallists.   The summer competition ended in a proliferation of league matches but Judith’s season was basically over.   Best times for the year of 4.21.9 for 150mm ranking her 4, 4.46.7 for 1 Mile and    9.14.07 for 3000 being comfortably the best time by a Scot for the year  showed that after 1978, she was back to her best.   It is only a pity that ’78 was the Commonwealth Games year.

1980 was another difficult year for Judith but not nearly as good as ’79 had been.   At the end of the year her best time for 1500m  was 4.33.9 ranking her 13th which was her lowest position for many years and her 3000m was 9.35.65 which saw her 3rd  it was her slowest end-of-year time since 1976 at age 17.    In 1981 Judith was third in the SWAAA 3000m behind Fiona McQueen and Yvonne Murray in 9:38.04 and by the end of the season, she was ranked in the 1000m with 2.54.5 which saw her 5th, the 1500m with 4.34.0 (18th) and 3000m 9.38.04 (7th).    The 1500m and 3000m were her slowest times and lowest ranked positions ever as a senior athlete.    There was clearly something not right with Judith’s running.   Summer 1982 was a bit better but by the end of the summer she was twenty second in the 1500m (4:40.2) and fifth in the 3000m (9:25.020

That winter Judith went to Clemson University in South Carolina on a sports scholarship.   Her old friend and rival Kerry Robinson from Pitreavie had gone a year earlier and that may have influenced her but whatever happened, it turned out to be a good move for her.   Her first good run was in February, 1983 when she ran 9:28.4 indoors in Boston University Commonwealth Armory to set a meet record.    From a running point of view, the move to America seems to have been a very good one.    The ARRS website lists what they consider to be her best runs over there and they are reproduced here:

9th Apr ’83:  9:21.2   3000m   Knoxville, Tennessee

21 May  ’83:  9:13.8   3000m   Knoxville, Tennessee

1st Jun ’83:   9:21.44  3000m   Houston, Texas

3rd Jun ’83:   9:14.50  3000m  Houston, Texas

21 Nov ’83:     17:33     5K CC     Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

13 Apr ’84:     9:29.71   3000m   Knoxville, Tenn.

31 May ’84:   9:31.66    3000m   Eugene, Oregon

9th Feb ’85:   9:31.32    3000m (indoors)   Gainesville, Florida

April ’85:        16:22.67  5000m    Des Moines, Iowa

30 May ’85:    17:14.79   5000m   Austin, Texas

She ‘lettered’ in all three years and in 2012 she was still in the Clemson top ten for 3000m and 5000m.   Although she had seemed to have the beating of Kerry Robinson early in her career, by now, although the two Scots girls were in the top three or four at the college, Kerry was slightly ahead.   In the top ten for 3000m Kerry was first ranked with 9:05.65 with Judith fourth on 9:13.38 (run in ’83); for the 5000m, Kerry was top with 16:02.76 while Judith was sixth with 16:22.87 (run in ’85).

She also ran in the NCAA Track & Field championships every year she was at Clemson and ran well every time.    For instance, the 9:14.5 from 30th May, 1985, above was set in the final of the NCAA championships and the quality of athlete running is indicated by the fact that Patti Sue Plummer was second, Lynn Jennings was fourth and Judith was a good fifth.   That was the day after she had run a qualifying heat in 9:21.44.

Her results were carefully monitored back home in Scotland and she ran when home on holiday so the ranking appearances were continued.   At the end of summer 1983 she was ranked in 1500 with 4.25.72 (12th), 3000 9.13.38 (2nd)  and 2 Miles with 10.14.08i.    In 1984 her recorded times were 1500 in 4.26.25 (8th), 1 Mile 4.59.42 (8th) and 3000m 9.29.71 (3rd).   1985 had times and places of 1500 4.37.40 (21th),   3000m 9.31.32i (7th) and 5000m  16.22.67 (3rd)

Although her times have been beaten and she no longer appears on the all-time lists in Scotland, there is no doubt that Judith Shepherd was a very good athlete – had she been running today, she would still be a very good athlete holding a position near the top of the sport.   Three national track titles (plus a second and third), two cross-country championship victories to her name, international appearances on the track for Scotland and Britain, records set in Scotland and the USA plus of course the schools, District and Inter-District championships, races in the NCAA Championships – all these and more indicate a career in the sport that she can be justifiably proud of.

There must be more information about Judith out there – if you have any, please get in touch.


Jim Egan

JE in NY

Scottish squad in New York in 1984: Jim in the centre of the front row beside Lawrie Spence

Jim Egan was a very talented runner who had, for whatever reasons, a short career with big gaps therein.   Where Emmet Farrell had a lot of excellent running in the ten years between his two Scottish championship victories, Jim won the Junior boys national in 1974 and was fifth in a very good field in the senior national in 1984, missed  seven consecutive nationals in the gap.   I’d really like to know more about Jim to find out what caused the big blank spaces that could have seen him continuing to battle out races with the likes of Graham Williamson and all his other contemporaries.   Regardless of that, he had a genuine talent.

Larkhall YMCA is a small club in Lanarkshire that produces many very good runners but which unfortunately suffers from the attractions and predations of other bigger county outfits.   There were many who stayed and among them was Willie Morrison who won the SAAA 880 yards championship in 1960 in 1:54.8, and the Burns brothers, Willie and Ian, (Willie ran in the  ICCU Junior Cross-Country in 1971 and 1972), the team which won the Scottish National Championship in 1970 (the brothers plus D McBain and J Sorbie).   However Jim Egan is probably the best endurance runner that the club has produced.

According to the club’s website, he started going along to the club in 1973 and, like almost all top class runners, it was clear even then that he was a talented athlete.  On 19th January, 1974, less than a year after taking up the sport, he was second to Graham Williamson (Springburn) in the West District cross-country championship at Cleland.   He followed this up a month later when he won the Scottish Under 13 national cross-country championship from Colin Hume (Teviotdale Harriers) and Graham Williamson (Springburn Harriers) at Coatbridge.       He is still the only club member to win a national cross-country championship at any level.   A pupil at Holycross High School, he was fourth in the 800m in 2:10.3 at Grangemouth on 25th May which was his best run of the summer, placing him 12th in the U15 age group.

There was no sign of him in either District or National Cross Country Championships in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981. He seems to have kept running because in 1977 he was recorded as running 2:02.2 for 800m on 28th June which placed him 15th in the Youths ranking lists.     Like many a good athlete at the time, his career is not  properly documented because of the poor coverage given to athletes out of the top three or four ta any age group, and particularly was this true of the younger age groups.  Over the country it is easier since the entire field for cross-country championships is now online.

Jim re-appeared in the results lists in season 1981-82: in the Western District Senior Cross Country Championships he finished a creditable 22nd ahead of some very good runners indeed but was absent from the national championship.   He then disappears again and was unplaced in any of the championships (National, District  or University) that summer, nor was he listed in the 1500m (down to 34th place), 3000m (to 15th) or 5000m (42nd)      82-83 no districts, no national.   He returned to the national scene in 1982 when he was being coached jointly by Willie Mowbray and David John Nugent after working well in the 70’s with Alex Perrie who worked with many very good athletes from that area.   From 1986 to the end of his career in the early 90’s he was coached by Tommy Boyle.   Willie Mowbray tells me that Jim was a very good football player indeed, he actually describes it as his first love, and feels that that at least partly explains the long gap between his two best races.   He goes on to say that Jim won the Scottish YMCA titlke several times and the British championship once in Manchester.   These were of a high standard: although the many YMCA clubs of the pre-war years had dwindled in number, one only has to think of the runners produced by Motherwell YMCA in the 60’s and the fact that Bellshill YMCA produced Tom McKean, never mind the number of such clubs south of the border to realise that.   Although Willie and David John always put the emphasis on quality work for Jim, there were the hard training miles to be done and for that you need company – John McFarlane and Sam Allison helped him get them done to.   It was obviously a good combination for him.

In his best cross-country season, 1983-84, Jim did not run in the district championships, although in November 1983 he was tenth in the Glasgow University Road Race, only three seconds behind Glen Stewart.  His good form on the roads continued with a victory in the East Kilbride Road Race on 3rd December 1983 in 29:13.    In January 84, he was third in the Nigel Barge behind Gordon Mitchell and Peter Fox, although it is fair to say that the field was a bit below par since the top ten from the previous year were running in invitation races abroad..  Jim had been running and racing at club level since 1982 and had set records for all the club road races.   This was the year that he was fifth in the national. championships which were run on 25th February.   The race was won by Nat Muit in 38:19.   He was followed by Allister Hutton, Fraser Clyne, Ross Copestake and Jim Egan (39:39 – slightly less than 400 metres behind the winner) who was himself followed by Gordon Mitchell, Charlie Haskett, Lawrie Spence Alex Gilmour, Eddie Stewart and George Braidwood.   It was a very good run indeed and an indication of just what Jim was capable of.    He was of course selected for the ICCU International Championships which were held in New York that year and finished 170th.   Remember when evaluating this position however that, as one of the others said before the race, “There were 40 countries running tomorrow.   Every country has a runner like Nat Muir and a runner like Allister Hutton.   So that’s 80 places you can forget about.”    And then factor in the African element ….   Jim was new to top class international running and it was not a bad run by any means.   The following summer, he had a best 1500m time of 3:49.06 which placed him 14th in the ranking lists for that season..

And the trail goes cold at that point.   Looking at his career from the few statistics generally available, he could probably have done much more.   Like several other clubs, L:arkhall YMCA did not often enter teams in too many District relays or championships, an like almost all clubs in the land did not have teams in the Edinburgh to Glashow relay where Jim could probably have done well.   No doubt he was approached by or even on occasion attracted to other local clubs and it is to his credit that he stayed with his original local club.    He did not however seem to race in the many open races around the central belt that could have helped his development and that puzzles me a bit.    He may of course have been injury prone and missed a season or two with a chronic injury.   It is possible though, that like many another boy who displays precocious talent early on, he drifted away to some other sport for a couple of years – football and rugby are the usual culprits.  In Jim’s case it was football.   One thing is certain though – Scottish athletics could have done with a few more years of a fit Jim Egan.

Jim Egan

Jim in the hooped vest on the left of the front row between Lawrie Spence (819) and 752

Jim in the hooped vest on the left of the front row between Lawrie Spence (819) and 752

AIC Heron


Alasdair Heron (72) following Fergus Murray and one place ahead of Ian McCafferty in the Nigel Barge Road Race in 1964

Alasdair Heron was born on 24:07.42 and really hit the attention of Scottish athletics in 1962 when he won the junior national cross-country championship in the colours of Edinburgh Southern Harriers.   He won two international vests for Scotland and ran superbly well in the SCCU championships.   He was also a top class track runner excelling at all distances from the mile up to six miles as well as the steeplechase.     His time at the top however was limited to the years between 1962 and 1965 inclusive  although he did run a little in 1966.

Heron’s first big victory came in the National Junior Championship of 1962 when he won from an outstandingly good field – look at the first eight finishers.   1st.   AIC Heron,  2nd.  JC  Douglas:  3rd.  M Ryan;  4th.  A Faulds:  5.  J Bogan;  6.  J Finn;   7.  R Donald;   8.  JL Stewart.   This run of course had him an automatic selection for the international cross-country championship at Graves Park in Sheffield.   The senior men’s team disappointed but the Junior squad of Lachie Stewart, Alasdair Heron and Jim Finn were placed 10th, 11th and 16th to win the bronze medals.   Heron was a student at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge in 1962 with best times of 9:21 for Two Miles and 14:20 for Three Miles both of which ranked him in the top ten in the Scottish rankings.   Almost all of his running seems to have been done in the South of England and in 1963 he had best times which ranked him in three distances – 4:15.7 for the Mile (11th), 9:20.3 for the Two Miles (19th) and a Steeplechase time of 9:37.8 which placed him seventh.   In November that year he ran on the second stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight stage relay for the first time and moved his club up from third to second with the second fastest time of the day and the club also finished second.   He missed the National in 1963 but was out on the second stage of the relay in November again and this time went one better, picking the team up from second to first with, again the second time of the afternoon.   Southern were again second though.

1964, however was his best year and included a victory in the SAAA Steeplechase.   He had started the season well with a victory over Ian McCafferty and Fergus Murray in the Nigel Barge Road Race at Maryhill in Glasgow.   The Athletics Weekly report read: Murray went ahead at the start, closely followed by Heron.   With about one and a half miles to go, Murray who was about 80 yards ahead of Heron, went off course.   By the time he was re-directed, Heron and McCafferty were out in front.   Murray passed McCafferty but failed to catch Heron – both men breaking Joe McGhee’s course record of 22:40. ”   Heron actually took 11 seconds from the time with his clocking of 22:29 with Murray on 22:38 and McCafferty on 22:42.  Back in Cambridge, he began by winning the inter-varsity cross-country which was a rare occurrence at that time with Oxford winning almost every year.   Then in the Scottish national cross-country championship he was up among the top men again finishing fifth behind Fergus Murray. Jim Alder, Alastair Wood, and Andy Brown to make the team for the international championships.  One gratifying aspect of this run was that he led Edinburgh Southern Harriers to their first ever national cross-country championship gold medal.  This time the International was held at Leopardstown Racecourse in Ireland and Heron finished 39th.   The following season he started with another good run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow on the second stage where he again picked up a place (from fifth to fourth) in the fourth quickest time of the day to see the club win bronze.    He was clearly in excellent form over the country and carried this on to the track.

On the track, that year, he had three very fast times in Cambridge early on, all of which placed him high on the University’s all-time lists..   On 25th April at the Milton Road track he he ran 14:27.6 for 5000m  which is still  good enough to see him sixteenth of all time Cambridge students.   The top two incidentally here are MBS Tulloh with 14:01,6, and DW Gunstone with 14:09.2.   Then only five days later, on 30th April, he ran 3000m in 8:17.4 at the same track which made him fourth fastest University man over the distance behind Mike Turner, MS Henderson and MBS Tulloh again.   A month later, on May 22nd, he won BUSF steeplechase championship in 8:58.2 in a meeting record, which was good enough to see him placed fourth on the University’s all time list.   This one was run at Iffley Road track.   Still in Cambridge he won the Varsity match steeplechase in 9:12.4.   Then in June came the SAAA gold medal triumph.   Keddie’s Centenary History of the SAAA reports on this as follows:  “Old Fettesian Alasdair Iain Campbell Heron became the first Scot since David Shaw to dip under 9 minutes for the steeplechase when at Oxford on 23rd May 1964 he was timed at 8 min 58.2 sec.   Remarkably enough his slowest run of the year was 9 min 14.2 sec in winning the SAAA title that June.”      Second in the race was R Henderson, East District champion in 9:30.2: Henderson went on to win the Scotland v All Ireland international steeplechase at Dam Park, Ayr, on 12th August.   Heron was unfortnately unable to compete in this international match.

The following season, 1965, he started with another good run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow on the second stage where he again picked up a place (from fifth to fourth) in the fourth quickest time of the day to see the club win bronze.   In 1965, having been team captain, he was now President of the Cambridge team.  The team was of a very high standard with athletes such as Wendell Mottley, the great Jamaican 220/440y runner, as team members.   The Achilles team toured USA with traditional matches against Pennsylvania/Cornell and Harvard/Yale with domestic competitions including the classic Sward and Kinnaird Trophy meetings.   Other club members around that time were Mike Turner, Tim Briault, Tim Johnston so Alasdair was running in good company.

His last run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay  in 1966  he again ran the second stage and this time, although he ran well enough,  he dropped a single place, from fourth to fifth this time.  The team, however, was again in the medals when finishing third, one place behind city rivals Edinburgh University in a race won by Shettleston Harriers.

Keddie had remarked in the piece quoted above that “Subsequently Alasdair Heron, a brilliant student, completed doctoral divinity studies at New College, Edinburgh, and was appointed to a theological lecturership in the USA, later (1981) becoming Professor of Reformed Theology at Erlangen in Germany.”   Heron did indeed go on to have a brilliant career as a theologian and there are many articles and books accessible on the internet and elsewhere to testify to that.   Latterly a  Professor Emeritus at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Alasdair Heron died on 10th May 2014.

A really top-class talent we should maybe look back at Heron’s best track times for each year between 1962 and 1965:

Year Distance Time Ranking
1962 2 Miles 9:21.0 4th
1962 3 Miles 14:20.0 9th
1963 1 Mile 4:15.7 11th
1963 2 Miles 9:20.3 19th
1963 3000m s/ch 9:37.8 7th
1964 1 Mile 4:15.4 14th
1964 2 Miles 8:56.4 2nd
1964 3 Miles 13:57.6 7th
1964 3000m s/ch 8:58.2 1st
1965 2 Miles 9:04.2 13th
1965 3 Miles 14:04.4 11th
1965 6 Miles 29:52.8 10th
1965 3000m s/ch 9:13.8 4th

Finally, although I ran in the 1964 National, I in no way impeded the progress of Alasdair Heron.   But on one occasion in the summer of 1962 I did slightly impede him in a three mile race.   It was an inter-club meeting between Clydesdale Harriers, Springburn Harriers and Vale of Leven Harriers.   I looked along the line at the start of the Three Miles and was confident that I could beat them all – Hughie McErlean would give me a battle but he was beatable.   There was one slight figure who had come along with Springburn to the track at Whitecrook but he didn’t look as though he would give anybody any trouble.   The gun went and this chap went to the front and came through the lap in 75 seconds.   Believing that he didn’t know what he was doing I edged in front and slowed it by about four seconds on the next lap but he came bustling past again just after the half mile and just kept going.   And he won so comfortably, hardly breaking sweat, by a distance.   Nobody from our club or the Vale knew who he was but we were informed by a Springburn runner that he was the national junior cross-country champion – Heron from ESH.   It was one of those moments.

Peter McColgan


Scottish Track Championships, 1989, Peter McColgan number 21

Peter McColgan, like John Joe Barry, Cyril O’Boyle, and others, is an Irishman who is a quality athlete and who has lived and run in Scotland, adding to the challenge for domestic athletes.   He came here initially in 1986 but his real contribution came between the years 1987 – 1992.   His career in Scotland will be checked via his performances in championship and other major races like the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay, while acknowledging that there were many very good races in Ireland, such as his two steeplechase championships in 1985 and 1989, and on the continent during the period in question..  

Peter McColgan was born in Strabane, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland on 20th February, 1963.   Like several other very good Irish runners he has lived in Scotland for some time now and contributed considerably to Scottish athletics.   Unlike the others though, he has won Scottish and British championships as well as Irish ones while representing Ireland over the country and on the track.    He first came to my notice in the mid 1980’s when two athletes that I was coaching went at Liz Lynch’s instigation to Alabama University.   While they were there they were part of a small close knit group of Irish and Scots runners which included Liz and Peter.   Peter was a very good athlete at college and it is from this time that I reprint the following article from the local newspaper.

Consistency is Name of McColgan’s Game

The Steeplechase, long considered one of track and field’s most physically and mentally demanding of events, requires a proper blend of speed and endurance.   University of Alabama runner Peter McColgan seems to possess that blend as demonstrated  two weeks ago when he smashed the existing school record – 9 years old – with a clocking of 8:42.54.   This mark, which qualified the smallish Northern Irishman for the NCAA Championships in June, was also the second fastest ever recorded by a native of his home country.   “I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite event said McColgan, “but I’ve been running it for a long time.   I remember running my first steeplechase in a time of 9:11 which at the time ranked sixth among British juniors.   I’d say right now it’s probably my best event, but I like running different races like the 1500m and 5000m.”

McColgan who has been used in in distance events ranging from 800m to 10000m since coming to the Capstone, could be an important factor when the Crimson Tide men set out for the South Eastern Conference Championships next month.   “He’s showed more range than I originally thought he had,” said Alabama coach John Mitchell, “and he has the ability go down and sprint a little more than I thought he would.   The problem we have now is trying to figure out where to put him in the conference where he can best help the team.”

Before the conference meet however, McColgan still has a few more meets to go.   This week he’ll be part of a Crimson Tide contingent travelling to Des Moines, Iowa, for the Drake Relays.   “Pete has really made a great improvement over the year,” said Mitchell, “first in cross-country, then indoors and now outdoors.   He’s been able to improve for two reasons.   He’s really worked hard and paid his dues and I think mentally he’s thinking a lot faster and better than he was before.”   McColgan, who at 5′ 7″ and 130 lbs is the smallest man listed ion the Tide roster, also has noticed an improvement in his performance.   He chalks it up to an improvement in training methods.  

“Before I came here, I never really trained that much,” said McColgan.   “I would train hard and long for three or four weeks then get lazy for three or four days.   Back home it was easy to get out of training because I had to train by myself and motivate myself.   You can do that for awhile but after a time you get burned out.     Here coach expects me to train and that gives me some motivation. Also I have a lot of other people to train with.    That makes it easier, because you can push them, and they can also push you.”   Mitchell, a distance runner himself in his college days has seen McColgan’s method of training first hand.  

“He’s really just made some great strides,” said Mitchell, “He’s got a tremendous mind and head  for distance running and he also has a very good work ethic.   He’s not afraid to work out.   But by the same token, he has the ability to judge just what he needs to get out of a particular workout.   He knows when he needs to control the workout, and when he needs to push it.”   Mitchell hopes that McColgan can continue to push straight through the SAC and NCAA  meets.   McColgan, who has a recorded  time of 4:02 in the Mile to his credit, has run the Tide’s top times this season in both the 1500 and 5000.    He ran a 3:47.08 in the 1500 back on March 16 and followed a week later with a 14:26.61 in the 5000.   

“I remember when I was in junior college (Ricks Junior College in Idaho),” said McColgan, “I would look at these NCAA qualifying times, and think that maybe I might be able to make them by the time I was a senior.   I really couldn’t see myself doing it before then.   Now it all seems a bit easier.   It was really hard for me to visualise myself running the fast times I’ve been running.   I just try to work hard and be consistent at it.”

Tuscaloosa News, 25/4/85

Peter, who only took up athletics at the age of 17, had always been a good runner and had set his first Northern Irish record four years earlier – he had run 9:11.59  for the 3000m steeplechase on 18th May, 1982 in Belfast as a 19 year old.    He would go on to set more records including the 2000m steeplechase and the indoor 3000m.   It is however fair to say that his career in the United States really brought him to the notice of the wider world.   In Alabama, 1986 was probably his best year – He won the SEC Championship steeplechase and he ran well enough at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis to be made an All American.   He set the College steeplechase record of 8:29.35 and ran 8:32.7 for the SEC record.   When you look at the lists of names for the endurance events in these rankings you get some idea of the quality of running he was doing at that time.    He was selected for the Irish team at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 and competed in both 3000m steeplechase and 5000m flat, making the final in both.   In the steeplechase he was seventh in 8:45.71 and in the 5000m he finished twelfth in 13:58.75.    It should be remembered that this came after the US college trio of back-to-back seasons – cross-country, indoor and outdoor track with not a break between them and in which he could be called upon to run any of the events between 800m and 10000m, and possibly on  occasion, double up.   1987 was dominated by his marriage to Liz Lynch, newly crowned Commonwealth Games 10000m champion.   They had attended Ricks College in Idaho together and gone on to the University of Alabama where they were among the stars of the track & field programme.


Peter came to live in Scotland in 1987 although he had been here in 1986 and run for Dundee Hawkhill Harriers.   But it was on graduation that he came to Scotland and his best years here were between 1987 and 1991.   A good cross-country runner, on the track his best event was usually thought to be the steeplechase.   With good reason: in 1982 he had set two Irish Junior records for the event – the 2000m time of 5:50.19 was on 1st August at Cwmbran,, and the 3000m 9:11.59 at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast on 18th May.   He was already known to the Scottish running public after he had run into third place in the SAAA Championship steeplechase in 1984: running in the colours of the Northern Irish club Apollo, he ran 9:03.87 in a slow run race.   It was to be the only steeplechase medal he won at the Scottish national championships.

We can maybe start this profile with a look at the high spots of his 1986 season.   His first good mark that summer was in a flat 3000m at Gainesville, Florida, where he clocked 7:54.48.  He also set an NCAA record for the steeplechase of 8:32.71.   On 18th July he came down a distance with some success.   In the Pearl Assurance Games in Birmingham, England, he was ninth in a very fast Mile and recorded 3:59.37 to be below sub-4 for the first time.  Then it was Commonwealth Games time at Edinburgh.   Here he had been selected to compete in the 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m.   He ran in both Finals and in the steeplechase he was seventh in 8:45.51 while in the 5000m he was twelfth in 13:58.75.   He followed that up on 5th August, at Gateshead with a 2000m steeplechase in 5:31.09 which was an Irish senior record in the colours of Irish club Sparta.   It was a good summer and he went in to the winter season in good condition and the highlight might well have been running in the world cross-country championships in Warsaw on 22nd March where he ran well against the best in the world.

In summer 1987 he has two times listed in the website – 1:54.7 for 800m and 8:11.0 for 3000m.   He couldn’t be ranked as he was not a Scottish national but as an indicator of his fitness level, it was encouraging..   He had his first run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow in November 1987 when he was on the high quality second stage, move the club from eleventh to third with the fastest stage time of the day in the team which unfortunately finished fourth.   He had run the second stage of the National relay a matter of weeks earlier and turned in the fifth fastest time to see the team finally cross the line in eighth place.   His only other championship run that year was the East District event which he won.   There was no run in the national cross-country championship nor in the six-stage road relay.   In summer 1988 came his first senior AAA’s steeplechase medal when he finished second.  He was ranked in three events in Scotland – the 1500, the 3000m and the 3000m steeplechase.   In the 1500 he ran 3:49 which was the tenth fastest run in the country or by a Scot that year, in the 3000m 8:07.8 which would have ranked him ninth, and in the steeplechase 8:37.52 he would have been ranked second – 17 seconds behind Tom Hanlon and 14 ahead of Graeme Croll.

He did not do much Scottish championship racing over the winter of 1988/89.  He again began with the Edinburgh to Glasgow where he moved to the fourth stage, again he picked up places – from 12th to 11th this time – to see the club seventh after the eight legs.   At the very end of the winter he turned out in the Six Stage Road Relay on the fourth stage when he was fourth fastest and picked up a silver medal when the club was second.

Summer 1989 was his best yet in the blue and white colours of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers.   His best times for the summer were 1:52.8 for 800m, 3:47.2 for 1500m, 7:57.82 for 3000m, 14:01.73 for 5000m and 8:34.10 for 3000m. steeplechaseFaster in every event than the previous summer with the 3000m being outstanding. The 1500m time was done in Antrim on 27th June and the 3000m two weeks earlier on 9th June in Helsinki.

In 1989/90 Peter ran in three championship races plus the Edinburgh to Glasgow and  he had fastest time of the day in all of them.   Starting with a run at home in Dundee in the East District relay, he ran the fourth stage to return the fastest time and bring the club home victorious.   On a short course (about 13 minutes running) he was 23 seconds faster than the next man – Keith Logan of Teviotdale.   On to the National Relays when he was again fastest over the course (14 seconds faster than Alistair Douglas) on a 12 minute course at Inverness and Hawkhill was second.   Peter was again fastest man over the course when he raced the second stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow bringing the club into first place from second.   They held it to the end and won the event for the only time in their history.  There is an excellent and fairly detailed article on the race in “Scotland’s Runner” for January 1990 (p9) which said of Peter’s contribution: “Hawkhead had already fired impressive shots, notably from Peter McColgan who had established a 41 second lead on stage two.   McColgan’s time was 68 seconds slower than Ian Stewart’s  course record set in 1972.   But, despite the possible injustice to Stewart, it might be worth establishing a new record for a stage that has lengthened significantly since then with the construction of two new roundabouts.”   Peter’s time was 13 seconds quicker than second fastest Alan Puckrin and he collected the scalps of Chris Hall and Tom Hanlon among many other top class athletes in this very difficult stage.    

Over the country in the national, having already won the Irish championship  he tackled the National Championships at Irvine on a dreadful day just one week later.   He won the event (beating Neil Tennant by 24 seconds) and led Hawkhill to third place.  For an idea of the conditions, see the picture above from “Scotland’s Runner” and their report, after lamenting the state of the course, read: “The master of the conditions in the Scottish Cross-Country Union’s centenary season was Northern Ireland’s Peter McColgan – the Arbroath based athlete scoring a memorable double in the wake of winning his native title the previous Saturday.   Now why did he change his mind about competing in Scotland?   McColgan said afterwards that it was a last minute decision to compete at Irvine, which probably deprived Neil Tennant, second this year, of a repeat of his 1988 triumph on the same course .   Bobby Quinn, repeating his rehabilitation from his serious leg injuries, was third.”    He did not run in the Six Stage Road Relay but Dundee Hawkhill won the event anyway.   Two national titles in the same season was good work and he followed by going into the summer via a second place in the Scottish Indoor 3000m championships where he was defeated by Ireland’s Nick O’Brien (8:10.70) in 8:16.51.

PMcC Roevin

Running in the Roevin Charity 10K, Aberdeen

Picture from S Axon via G MacIndoe

Excellent times were achieved at five distances in summer 1990.  He started with a 14:38.3 5000m win at Crownpoint in a Scottish League match on 20th May, and then skipping the East District Championship,  he went on to victory in the Scottish 5000m title from Paul Dugdale and Gary Nagel (both English) in 14:10.09.    His best marks however were as follows.  At 1500m he ran 3:48.60 when winning at Gateshead on 19th August; at 3000m 7:54.33 when finishing third at Belfast on 16th July in the Pearl meeting and 8:10.65 at Gateshead when finishing thirteenth on 17th August; and, at 5000m 13:48.66.  Over the barriers of the steeplechase, he ran 5:34.14 for 2000m and 8:34.10 for 3000m with an 8:37.68 at Crystal Palace in the Parcelforce meeting.

That winter, 1990-91, Doug Gillon had this to say in the December issue of “Scotland’s Runner”:   “McColgan, winner of the national title last year, has improved his form ever since then.   But his most recent form is hard to gauge as he has raced sparingly in the face of impending fatherhood, and then only on the anchor leg of relays.   He was already in a winning position when given the lead (in the E-G) last year with the joint second fastest time of the day.  His progress from 1987 until last season has been hampered by viral illness, but since his title double last year he has gone from strength to strength.   He is now at the stage of looking for an agent to arrange races for him on the continent.” 

What were these anchor legs?   Dundee Hawkhill won the McAndrew Relay at Scotstoun on the first Saturday in October.   McColgan ran the final stage and had sixth fastest time of the day – and second fastest time for the Hawks with his time of 15:16 being beaten by Steve Ovett (14:49), Chris Robison, Steve Binns, K Logan and Chris Hall (Hawkhill – 15:15)     He was fastest in the East District relay with Hawks again winning.  He didn’t run in the E-G, but there were only more championships that year for him – the National where he was second to Tom Hanlon (Hawkhill also second) and in the Six Stage he ran the last leg moving from fourth to second, passing Nat Muir en route, with third quickest of the afternoon for more silver for the team.


In summer 1991 he won an 800m in 1:53.4 in Glasgow on 26th May to start off with and followed up running 7:55.21 in Belfast on 21st June, followed four days later with 8:27.93 steeplechase over in Hengelo where he finished third.   The next big one was in Lapperanta on 9th July when he was times at 7:55.36 for seventh place on 9th July.  On 31st July he was back in Scotland and winning a 1500m at Livingston in 3:46.8.    Into August and and in the Pearl Assurance meeting at Gateshead on 11th he was fifth in a 2000m steeplechase in 5:34.22.   Competitively, he won the UK 3000m steeplechase and was third in the AAA’s steeplechase championship.   But the highlight had to be running for GB  in Tokyo in the third world championships at the end of August.   Here he was tenth in the second heat of the steeplechase in 8:58.34, the heat winner being Patrick Sang in 8:26.78.  Sang went on to be second to compatriot Moses Kiptanui in the final (8:12.59 to 8:13.44)

The following winter Peter ran in no Scottish championships.  Dundee tend not to race a lot in the West at races such as the McAndrew, the Scally, the Jim Flockhart or the Nigel Barge but Peter did run at some local races such as the Lita Allan Memorial race at Kirkcaldy where he was second to Terry Mitchell, beaten by just 7 seconds.  In early summer, 1992, he completed a double with wife Liz when they won their respective races in the St Andrews University Charity Half Marathon: Peter was overall race winner in 75:50, more than three minutes ahead of second, and Liz was in fifth place to win the women’s race.   The following summer, the only mark recorded was 8:56.9 for 3000m steeplechase.  In summer 1992 he was credited with 8:56.9

In  season 1992/3  he ran the second stage of the E-G moving from fourth to third in the team that was fifth.   In the Six Stage Relay he ran on the short fifth lap and set a new stage record when he went from second to first in the team which won the event.   There were some other good runs – 8:56.9 for the steeplechase in 1992, 14:52.36 for 5000m and a steeplechase in 9:15.41 in 1993, an E-G second stage in the eighth fastest time keeping his team in fourth place in 1993, a new short stage record in the Six Stage Road Relay in 1994 and a  4:05.6 mile in   Derry in August 1995 plus 1:55.6 for 800, 3:50.3 for 1500m in the same year – but by now, in his thirties, his top class racing career was at an end.

But by now he had done all his personal best times and was racing sparingly in Scotland.   A sub-four miler, he had run well, won national titles on track and over the country, represented Ireland and Great Britain, helped the Hawks to gold, silver and bronze in District and National championships on the road and over the country and generally added to the quality of athletics in Scotland in the period from 1987 to 1992.   We should maybe finish with a note of Peter McColgan’s personal best times.


First of all Peter’s Personal Best Times

Distance Time Date and Venue Distance Time Date and Venue
800m 1:51.9 5000m 13:47.13 30/7/86: Belfast
1500m 3:43 2000m S/ch 5:31.09 5/8/86: Gateshead
Mile 3:59.37 18/7/86: Birmingham 3000m S/ch 8:27.93 25/7/91: Hengelo
3000m 7:54.33 16/7/90: Belfast

Progression in steeplechase

2000 m steeplechase

1986:    5:31.09     4th     Gateshead     5th August

3000 m steeplechase

1988:   8:37.52     5th June

1990:     8:34.10     4th     Birmingham     4th August

1991:     8:27.93     3rd     Hengelo     25th June


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