Dave Clark

DC Arc


Just behind him is the Admiralty Arch as he strides out down The Mall

Colin Youngson writes this tribute to one of Scotland’s best ever but least known marathon runners. Dave Clark came to marathon running comparatively late in his running career but had an amazing and swift impact and Colin covers his career in detail.

David R Clark (Born 7th October 1943) developed rather late as a marathoner.   He first broke 2:20 at the age of 35 in 1978, and for the next nine years had an outstanding career.   Born in Aberdeen he went to Aberdeen Grammar School – as did Mel and I – and went straight to Aberdeen University from there.    Arguably he became the most successful Over 40 marathon runner Britain has ever produced.   When I joined Aberdeen University Hares and Hounds in October 1966 he had already graduated and moved South.   His team mates had included Scottish International runners like Mel Edwards and Bill Ewing, and I knew that Dave had won a ‘half-blue’ for cross-country running.    We first met after the British Universities Sports Federation Cross-Country Championships on Saturday 4th February 1967.   This was my very first trip to London and nothing had prepared me for Parliament Hill Fields!   After struggling through six miles of mud and hills, and finishing 77th from 270 (but second Aberdonian), I hope that I showered before we headed off downtown.   Our guide was spectator Dave Clark, who made us walk ‘miles’ through the strange city before introducing us to his favourite Indian restaurant.   There he encouraged us to sample curries hotter than hell.   When we failed to clear our plates he did so with relish.   Had he been born in India?   Did he have a cast-iron stomach?   Obviously a hard guy, despite his medium height, trademark spectacles and otherwise civilised demeanour.

Ten years later we met for the second time!   Dave was living in St Albans by then.   He fills the gap thus:

“I enjoyed running from an early age.   At school it was not only an escape from team games involving balls but something that I was surprised to find myself quite good at.   For most of my career I had survived on a theory based on the benefits of rest.   A training run on a Wednesday for a race on Saturday was enough.   However having done a 10 miler around 1970 and suffered in the last five, I was aware that longer distances needed proper preparation.   So it was in 1975 that, encouraged by team mates who felt I could do it, I got it into my head to run a marathon before I retired from the sport.   With a steady job in London the obvious way to increase the mileage was to use this journey to good advantage.   So it was out at 7:20 am, then on the train to West Hampstead, Cricklewood or Hendon, and a run into Piccadilly Circus (via a patisserie) , a quick shower and ready to go at 9:00 am.   Then in the evening, the same in reverse.   I also extended my Sunday morning runs with my Verlea team mates, finding parts of the county I never knew existed.   With confidence I tried an all-the-way-home run.   John Dryden (Shaftesbury Harriers) took me his favourite route through Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath, Golders Green to near his house in North London, leaving me to finish the run on my own.   The route was as rural as possible and pathfinding was tricky but I made it and thereafter tried to do this run once a week if I had no serious race at the weekend.   This regime, with additional runs through Hyde Park at lunchtime, eventually led to (one) week of 130 miles.   But one of the first effects of this new regime was improved results at shorter distances – even when there was no easing up for the race.   One early success – possibly because of the rural nature of most of the training – was a fourth place in the Orion 15 in March 1976, only a minute behind the winner.   This is a wonderfully muddy cross-country course in Epping Forest which I have always loved.  

I had decided to make my marathon debut in Milton Keynes, the RRC Marathon in July, so the training was geared to that – the other races being part of the build up.   So I was not disappointed in tenth place over 16 miles in the Clydebank to Helensburgh in April or 52:35 in the Hampstead 10 in May.   By this time the temperature was rising and we were due to have a real barbecue summer.   My plan for the marathon was to acclimatise myself by running the Welwyn Half Marathon the previous weekend without drinking any water.    By ten miles I was in third place.   My memory of finishing is hazy.   I almost lost consciousness and was ill for the rest of the day, but later found out that I was fifth in 76 minutes.   But the message was clear, drink early and drink often!   This paid off the following week: the temperature was 33 degrees C (91 degrees F) but I loved it.   Running with a club-mate, we agreed to start slowly and run together as far as we could.   We were around thirtieth at 10K but still running steadily and seeing other runners drop out.   I was eighteenth at 20K, tenth at 35K and finished ninth in 2:34:53 , tired but elated.   The atmosphere was way beyond that of a normal road race – we were all survivors of a shared experience and I was hooked – the marathon was going to be my event.

Later that summer I was a very close second to Graham Milne in Inverness to Drumnadrochit Road Race and then sixth in the Achmony Hill Race about  an hour later.   This crazy regime continued until September when I ran the Ben race as a training run the week before the Poly Marathon at Windsor.   I was not too concerned about finishing 40th on Ben Nevis.   Having dropped from the first ten at the summit, I was inhibited from running fast downhill due to a desire to remain alive with a full complement of limbs.   I started the Poly full of confidence and felt very easy in fifth place in 53 minutes for 10 miles.   At 20 I hit the wall.   My eleventh place in 2:28:48 was respectable but in my first year I had learned a great deal about marathon running – and my own limits.   From then on the event was not only in the blood but in the brain as well, and every waking hour was spent on working out how to improve my performance.

At work there was one of these new devices called a computer and I arranged to come in early and wrote a program which would take my daily food intake and calculate its value in terms of carbohydrate, Fat, protein and dozens of vitamins and minerals.   I read running books – Arthur Lydiard was particularly valuable –  and discussed training methods with my club-mate John Steed.   We developed a method called ‘modelling’ which involved running three miles very easily as a warm-up, then a fast sub-5 minute mile, followed by 5 miles of tempo running at 5:30/mile, finishing with 100m sprint and a few warm-down miles.   This was intended to replicate race conditions and build an ability to sprint to a finish line when totally shattered.   I read Ron Hill on carbo-depletion and resolved to try it next year.”

1977 started well for Dave Clark with a fourth place in the Hampstead 10 in April in 49:53 (his first time sub-50) as a build up to the AAA’s marathon in Rugby.   On 7th May, 1977, representing Verlea, he finished a solid tenth in 2:21:54, two places behind Jim Dingwall who did have a cold.   This led to his first GB vest for a 25Km road race in northern France.   The GB team filled the first five places and Dave was fourth.   Then he turned up on 25th June for the SAAA Marathon in Edinburgh.   This was the year that Jim Dingwall broke my championship record by 45 seconds reducing it to 2:16:05.   Willie Day recorded a very good 2:17:56 and Sandy Keith 2:18:52.   After running with Dave for a long time I managed to get away to finish in 2:19:35 while he slowed a bit to fifth in 2:21:18.   And that, I suspect, is the only time I have finished in front of him in a marathon.   Not content, Dave actually recorded his first marathon win (in 2:22:50) on a return visit to Rugby on 4th September 1977.   He ended the season with a fourth place in the Northwood half marathon in 1:03:40 on a course which he hopes was the correct length and 34th position in the UK marathon rankings.

M4 DC 2

Dave on the left with GB team mates Greg Hannon (NI), Sandy Keith, Bernie Plain (Wales), Paul Eales (England)

at the Karl-Marx-Stadt marathon, 1/9/79

So far so good but there was a good deal more to come from Dave Clark.   In April 1978 he was second (1:42:52) in the prestigious Finchley 20 (beaten by a fast finishing Tony Simmons who, ironically, had not entered the Inter-Counties Championship, allowing Dave to collect the winner’s cup.   Both had been using the ’20’ as preparation for the AAA’s at Sandbach on 7th May which was the selection race for the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.   Simmons won but Dave, who had been second Scot behind Jim Dingwall, developed a foot injury and fell back to finish 29th in 2:20:26, still a personal best.   On holiday in Finland in the summer, he recorded 2:27:57 for fourth place in Jakobstad, and on returning to Rugby had to concede victory finishing second in 2:22:25.   On 14th October he was fourth (53:55) in the famous Paris to Versailles race over 16.3 km.   Two weeks later Dave finished second in the Unigate Harlow Marathon breaking 2:20 easily to record 2:17:55.

1979 was even better with Dave Clark showing real consistency at a high level.   On 3rd March for Aberdeen AAC, he was fourth (51:32) over a hilly course against a classy field in the Edinburgh University 10; a week later he ran a brisk 49:10 in the Tonbridge 10; and then on the 25th March produced another PB (2:16:01 for eighth on the Scottish all-time list) when, representing Great Britain he finished second in the International Essonne Marathon in France.   Dave wrote about this race in the SMC magazine.   He took an early lead but at 13km his GB team mate, Paul Eales, shot off and by half way was 350 metres in front of Dave, the French champion Kolbeck and Go Tchoun Sein, a Korean who had won the classic Kosice marathon.   The Korean escaped at 26 km but Dave Clark managed to move away from the Frenchman at 30 km.   Eventually Paul Eales slowed down allowing Dave to pass him.   He wrote “The Korean, Go, had gone and was nowhere to be seen.”     Go went all right – on to win in 2:13:34 but Dave had worn the British vest with distinction finishing well in front of good English competitors like Paul Eales, Barry Watson and Mike Gratton, although North Korea won the team race with Britain second.

Dave Clark showed impressive powers of recovery by running 2:18:29 for forty third in the world class Boston Marathon on 16th April 1979.   Jim Dingwall was fifty eighth in 2:20:18.   This was another salutary learning experience – at this time fields of thousands were unknown in Britain, and to be left in the cold for half an hour without one’s tracksuit  resulted in two hours of agony.   Back home the AAA’s marathon was at Coventry with Dave finishing tenth in 2:25:56, the time reflecting Dave’s caution in the sweltering conditions.   Then on 8th July, I learned only too well how Dave had improved.   The two of us were selected to run for Scotland in the BLE (Eire) marathon championship at Tullamore which was held at the same time as a triangular athletics contest between Scotland, Denmark and Ireland.   English and Welsh teams competed in the marathon too.   I believe that, running into a headwind, a large group of about 20 reached halfway with Graham Dugdale of England ahead.   After the turn the race speeded up and I was left grovelling to finish a miserable twenty second in an exhausted 2:30:42.   Dave, however, who had impressed me before the race with his immaculate preparation for the race, involving the use of a humidity meter, came very close to winning but eventually finished only second, only 15 seconds behind Ireland’s Pat Hooper whose time was 2:17:46.

A British vest and a Scottish one, plus three sub-2:20’s in less than four months.   Characteristically, Dave battled on remorselessly.    On 1st September, running for GB once more, he finished third (2:18:22) in the well-known Karl-Marx-Stadt marathon in East Germany.   Then he rounded off a great year with fourth place in the Paris to Versailles (52:36) and second in the Pol-de-Leon to Morlaix, France.   By now Dave Clark had become an experienced and well-respected international marathon runner.   He was ranked eighth in the Athletics Weekly UK Merit Rankings for the Marathon in 1979.   Surely this had been his finest hour?

Not at all.   Although injuries might have intervened to restrict Dave’s racing, he ran for Scotland in the Swintex 25km, and for GB in Le Quesnoy, France, in July before spending the summer in Switzerland and doing mountain races including twelfth place in the tough Sierre-Zinal 28 km race with 1900 feet of climbing.   At the international  30km at Lillois, Belgium, in August he wore the GB vest for third place in 1:36:20.   On 28th September 1980 he finished second (2:19:33) in the Berlin marathon, running by now to a highly controlled even pace regime of 16:30 per 10K.

M4 DC 3

On Sierre Zinal, 1983

1981 did not start well due to a number of injuries.   On 29th March 1981 he was 29th (2:21:37) in the first London marathon, then on 10th May, sixth (2:20:01) in the AAA’s, seventh 2:18:42 at Sandbach in June and on 27th September, third (2:20:10) at Berlin, again after another summer in France and Switzerland racing every weekend.

1982 produced Dave’s fastest times.   On 14th March 1982 he was seventh in a sizzling 2:15:06.   The event was the Romaratona marathon in Rome and the course may have been 120 metres short.   However Dave provided crystal-clear proof of his fitness on 9th May when he finished seventh once again, but this time in the London marathon, to record a permanent PB of 2:15:28.   Even in late 2010, this makes Dave Clark 14th on the Scottish all-time list  (plus 125th on the British one and 18th on the British M35 one).   Dave ran two more marathons that year: on 8th August he won the Col de Lumiere race in France in 2:22:22, and following a win in the Luton 10, on 26th September he recorded  2:18:36 for eleventh (for GB again with Jim Dingwall as team-mate) in Beijing, China.

1983 started with third place (2:19:14) in Hong Kong on 22nd January, won by Jim Dingwall in 2:15:48, followed by 45th (2:16:06) in London on 17th April.   Then on 29th May, fifth (2:18:19) in Geneva; on 3rd July a win in (2:21:51) in the Pennine marathon for which the prize was a trip with entry to the New York marathon.   Only two weeks later he won the Caithness marathon in 2:20:34.   Dave Clark was three months short of his fortieth birthday!   Not content to rest he finished seventh (2:24:27) in the Adidas British Marathon in Bolton on 21st August.   His veteran adventure was about to begin.   He would prove to be a true ‘Master’.

What a start!   On 23rd October 1983 in the classic New York marathon, Dave Clark finished 40th and first Master in 2:17:30.   This performance places him sixth on the all-time British M40 list, but certain of the people in front of him may well have benefited from short or downhill courses or substantial tailwinds but the NYC course is tough!   Of those around Dave, only Donald Macgregor (six seconds faster on the list) and Alastair Wood actually won a World Veteran title….

Dave Clark’s success continued for four more years.   By the time he had worked out that race promoters attended all the main events, and that it was relatively easy to pick up a promise of an invitation (with flight and hotel)  to a race of one’s choice by doing reasonably well and talking to the right people.   This resulted in some crazy choices such as Marseille (sixth in 2:26:49 on 11th March 1984) and Barcelona a week later (19th in 2:21:36).   On 13th May 1984 he was 48th in the London marathon recording 2:18:38, 32 seconds behind first Master, Barry Watson.   He followed that on 27th May with tenth in Geneva (2:20:02) feeling somewhat weak, having experimented with a vegetarian diet.   He was back for another go at the Pennine on 1st July but this time had to settle for second place behind the Northern Irishman Malcolm McBride.   On 23rd September he he took seventh place (2:20:27) in the Montreal  International Marathon, Canada, running with Graham Laing as a British team; and on 28th October seventeenth (2:21:04) in NYC winning $2,200.   Indefatigably Dave finished the year with a (possibly) short course fifth place 2:18:07 in Florence.   What is it about these Italian course measurers?

On 21st April 1985, Dave Clark ran 2:18:10 for 37th (and second Master, only six seconds behind Gunther Kopp of Germany who used to run with Victoria Park AAC’s Hugh Barrow in Glasgow).   26th May produced second place (67:49) in the first 22km Royal Sandringham Run in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

Sunday, 9th June, 1985 was the day that Dave Clark became a World Veteran Champion, with a clear win in the IGAL 25km event in Lytham St Anne’s recording 80:03 with prominent ex-international athletes Allan Rushmer second (80:49) and Tim Johnston third (81:15).   Six days later the amazing Dave Clark finished fourth (2:18:51) in a marathon some distance away – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!   20th July 1985 saw Dave win the Belgrave 20 in London recording a time of 1:43:41 (which is either first or second on the British All-Time M40 list.)   It was the first time in the 34 year history of the race that it had been won by a veteran.   Then he went off on a couple of so-called ‘holidays’ in the USA.   On 3rd August he was second in the Kelly-Shaefer race in New London; followed by 14th (first M40) in 2:18:57 in the Twin Cities marathon in St Paul on 6th October.

On 8th Match 1986 Dave Clark was forty second (and third M40) in in 48:11 in the 15km River Run in Jacksonville, Florida.   He flew over to Bruges in June for a third place finish in the popular international veterans 25km, then on 20th July he finished eleventh (first M40) in 2:26:04 in the San Francisco Marathon.   A fast 10K (31:47) gave him fourteenth place in the well-known but hilly Barnsley event on 28th September.   And then Dave finished the year in real style!

First on 12th October he won $3000 for thirty third (and first Master) in the Twin Cities marathon in 2:22:32.   Then Dave picked up another $3000 on 2nd November when ending up 65th (but first Master) in the New York City marathon (2:25:35).   This result hit the headlines as, at the awards ceremony Dave was presented with the award for the second M40 only to discover a few weeks later, that the ‘winner’ had not been seen by race cameras at key points.   He was told the result by a national newspaper while at work in London.

The obsession with racing continued into 1987 with a trip in March to the World Veterans Championships.   David had been flown over for the Tel Aviv marathon a few days later so he ran only the 10K (5th in 32:01) and the 8km cross-country as preparation.   He posted 2:27:36 for second place (and first M40) in the marathon.   In Spring 1987, Dave at the age of 43, rounded off his outstanding career as a world class ‘Masters Marathoner’ by finishing first M40 in the Boston Marathon in 2:21:37.     But there was one more: an obscure 2:46:06 in the Honolulu marathon in Hawaii, nursing a groin injury and finishing the race only by splashing the iced water offered at the drinks stations on to the aching tendon.

Thereafter injuries took their toll.   Dave Clark took up cycling – touring but also competing.   Nowadays he lives with his wife Genefer in Oxford, and is running once more – racing over rad and cross-country for his club, Herts Phoenix.   The M60 and M65 trophies have begun to take their place on his shelves – but not for the marathon.

Started 50
Finished 48
Won 4
1st M40 10

Aberdeen is proud of him.   Thank goodness he didn’t win a ‘full blue’ or who knows what he might have achieved!


Colin’s profile of this remarkable athlete finishes here and it really amazes me that we do not know more about him.   Top class times on all five continents, GB and Scottish vests in both Senior and veteran events, on the road and in the Mountains,  and I didn’t know very much about the man at all.   I would hope that his inclusion here would help redress the situation somewhat and let more people know about his achievements.

David Clark – Marathon Career Record             

No Date Venue Position Time Winner (Club) Time
  1 03 July 1976 Milton Keynes (RRC)         9 2:34:53 Norman Deakin (City of Stoke) 2:25:50
  2 11 September 1976 Windsor       11 2:28:48 Bernie Plain (Cardiff) 2:15:43
  3 07 May 1977 Rugby (AAA)       10 2:21:54 Dave Cannon (Gateshead) 2:15:02
  4 25 June 1977 Edinburgh (SAAA)         5 2:21:18 Jim Dingwall (Falkirk Victoria) 2:16:05
  5 04 September 1977 Rugby         1 2:22:50  
  6 07 May 1978 Sandbach (AAA)       29 2:20:26 Tony Simmons (Luton) 2:12:33
  7 22 July 1978 Pietarsaari (Finland)         4 2:27:57 Jorma Sippola (Finland) 2:20:57
  8 03 September 1978 Rugby         2 2:22:25 Dave Francis (Westbury) 2:19:28
  9 28 October 1978 Harlow         2 2:17:55 Paul Eales (Windsor S&E) 2:16:40
10 25 March 1979 Essonne (FRA)         2 2:16:01 Chun-Son Go (PRK) 2:13:34
11 16 April 1979 Boston (USA)       41 2:18:29 Bill Rodgers (USA) 2:09:28
12 13 May 1979 Coventry (AAA)       10 2:25:56 Greg Hannon (Northern Ireland) 2:13:06
13 08 July 1979 Tullamore (Ireland)         2 2:18:01 Pat Hooper (Ireland) 2:17:46
14 01 September 1979 Chemnitz (East Ger)         3 2:18:22 Waldemar Cierpinski (East Ger) 2:15:50
15 06 July 1980 Le Quesnoy (FRA)         4 2:23:06 Jim Dingwall (Falkirk Victoria) 2:18:40
16 28 September 1980 Berlin (GER)              2 2:19:33 Ingo Sensburg (West Ger) 2:16:48
17 29 March 1981 London       29 2:21:37 Dick Beardsley / Inge Simonsen 2:11:48
18 10 May 1981 Rugby (AAA)         6 2:20:01 Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:14:07
19 21 June 1981 Sandbach         7 2:18:42 Andy Robertson (Army) 2:14:23
20 27 September 1981 Berlin (GER)         3 2:20:10 Ian Ray (Salisbury) 2:15:42
21 14 March 1982 Rome (ITA- ?distance)         7 2:15:06 Emiel Puttemans (Belgium) 2:09:53
22 09 May 1982 London         7 2:15:28 Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:09:24
23 08 August 1982 St Hilaire de Riez (FRA)         1 2:22:22  
24 26 September 1982 Beijing (PRC)       11 2:18:36 Jong-Hyong Lee (PRK) 2:14:44
25 22 January 1983 Hong Kong         1 2:19:14 Jim Dingwall (Falkirk Victoria) 2:15:48
26 17 April 1983 London (AAA)       45 2:16:06 Mike Gratton (Invicta) 2:09:43
27 29 May 1983 Geneva (SUI)         5 2:18:19 Ryszard Kopijasz (Poland) 2:15:00
28 03 July 1983 Huddersfield (Pennine)         1 2:22:51  
29 17 July 1983 Caithness         1 2:20:34  
30 21 August 1983 Bolton         5 2:24:17 Ian Thompson (Luton) 2:18:09
31 23 October 1983 New York (USA)       40 2:17:30 Rod Dixon (New Zealand) 2:08:59
32 11 March 1984 Marseilles (FRA)         6 2:26:49 Christian Geffrey (France) 2:17:50
33 18 March 1984 Barcelona (ESP)       19 2:21:36 Werner Meier (Switzerland) 2:14:50
34 13 May 1984 London (AAA)               48    2:18:38 Charlie Spedding (Gateshead) 2:09:57
35 27 May 1984 Geneva (SUI)       10 2:20:02 Svend-Erik Kristensen (Denmark) 2:14:55
36 01 July 1984 Huddersfield (Pennine)         2 2:23:54 Malcolm McBride (Salford) 2:22:54                                              
37 23 September 1984 Montreal (CAN)         7 2:20:27 Jorge Gonzalez (Puerto Rico) 2:12:48
38 28 October 1984 New York (USA)       17 2:21:04 Orlando Pizzolato (Italy) 2:14:53
39 02 December 1984 Florence (ITA-?distance)         5 2:18:07 Andy Robertson (Army) 2:15:23
40 21 April 1985 London (AAA)       37 2:18:10 Steve Jones (RAF) 2:08:16
41 15 June 1985 Rio de Janeiro (BRA)         4 2:18:51 Ron Tabb (USA) 2:16:15
42 06 October 1985 Saint Paul (USA)       14 2:18:57 Phil Coppess (USA) 2:10:05
43 27 October 1985 New York (USA)    DNF   Orlando Pizzolato (Italy) 2:11:34
44 20 April 1986 London (AAA)    DNF   Toshihiko Seko (Japan) 2:10:02
45 20 July 1986 San Francisco (USA)       11 2:26:04 Peter Pfitzinger (USA) 2:13:29
46 12 October 1986 Saint Paul (USA)       33 2:22:32 William Donakowski (USA) 2:10:42
47 02 November 1986 New York (USA)       68 2:25:35 Gianni Poli (Italy) 2:11:06
48 19 March 1987 Tel Aviv (ISR)         2 2:27:34 Michel Constant (France) 2:23:27
49 20 April 1987 Boston (USA)       24 2:21:27 Toshihiko Seko (JAP) 2:11:50
50 13 December 1987 Honolulu (USA)       37 2:46:06 Ibrahim Hussein (Kenya) 2:18:26

John Graham



John is one of only two Scottish marathon men to be under 2:10 for the distance and his best of 2:09:28 is only 12 seconds outside Allister Hutton’s national record.   The picture is of him winning the Rotterdam Marathon and the article is by Colin Youngson and was written with John’s co-operation and approval.

In 1974, seventeen-year-old John Graham, representing Motherwell YMCA Harriers, won the Scottish Cross-Country Union Youth Championship. Legend has it that he was already running a hundred miles per week in training. In fact he says that it might not have been quite as much, but that his coach Bert Mackay, the experienced Peter Duffy, and several young hopefuls made the local two-hour Sunday run an initiation ordeal, which he passed at the tender age of sixteen! He claims only to have ‘hit the wall’ once in his life! Bert Mackay encouraged him to try plenty of high quality interval training, and also to take pollen tablets for energy and resistance to infection.

John had been a footballer and also slightly asthmatic, so he took up running. Two early races he remembers were a two-second loss to Allister Hutton, his main Scottish marathon rival much later, in the British Boys Brigade cross-country at Ingliston in 1973; and an ‘unofficial’ 48.30 time in the Tom Scott 10 (minimum entry age 21) at seventeen.    He went on to represent Scotland in the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships four times: once as a junior (1975); and thrice as a senior (1977, 1978 and 1980). Running for Clyde Valley AC, alongside such stars as Jim Brown, Ronnie MacDonald, Brian McSloy, Ian Gilmour and Peter Fox, he won Scottish team titles: the National Cross-Country Relay and the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay. John always enjoyed running hard with a group of competitive clubmates like these.

Further proof of John’s toughness was provided in 1978. He had always been good at jumping fences, but it was a considerable feat when he twice broke the Scottish Native Record for 3000 metres steeplechase, ending up with 8.39.3. He was selected for the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, but unfortunately a virus prevented him from competing. However John is very philosophical about the downside of athletics.

John Graham moved to Birmingham in 1979. Representing Birchfield Harriers and advised by club secretary and coach Maurice Millington, he started his marathon running career in 1980. His debut was an extremely impressive 2.13.21 when he won the Laredo Marathon in Northern Spain. Even better was an excellent third place behind Alberto Salazar in the famous New York event (2.11.47), which was a Scottish best performance. He improved this record in 1981 when he won the Rotterdam Marathon in a startling 2.9.28 – a time then only beaten by six other athletes in history!

Although he hated repetitions longer than 600 metres (and the aversion might have stopped him running faster at 5k and 10k) he did a great deal of track work, as well as many hill reps in Sutton Park and, often wearing both a tracksuit and a wetsuit, based his fitness mainly on ten-mile runs. In fact on Tuesdays and Thursdays he ran 10/5/10, with the third session of the day the extremely competitive Birchfield club run. Virtually covering the full marathon distance fast twice a week gave him plenty of speed endurance and meant that his Sunday run was seldom longer than one and a half hours. Over the year he might average about 115 miles per week, but he built up to a marathon with six heavy-mileage weeks, followed by six weeks of faster work. He neither ‘did the diet’ nor eased down properly before the marathon, but might decrease the intensity a little. He tried to race a half-marathon, a ten-miler and a 10k, in that order, in the weeks before the long race.

Trained after 1982 by John Anderson, who introduced sessions like ‘fifteen minutes flat out, followed by a return journey even faster’, John Graham battled on for several years. A valiant if unlucky event was the Commonwealth Games marathon in Brisbane 1982, when despite racing boldly he suffered from a cruel stitch (an old problem due to a scarred stomach muscle) and finished fourth in 2.13.04. Unfortunately, four years later in the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, he came home fourth once more (2.12.10).

The good performances continued: 1982 2.10.57 in New York; 1985 2.9.58 in Rotterdam and 2.12.55 in Chicago; 1986 (as well as Edinburgh) 2.13.42 in Rotterdam; 1987 2.12.32 in London. Amazingly, John Graham once held nine of the best twenty Scottish marathon times.

John’s peak coincided with the boom years for the marathon. He raced all round the world and received marvellous hospitality and prize money. He met and formed friendships with great runners past and present, from Herb Elliot to Frank Shorter and Steve Jones. Domestically, it gave him great pleasure to win his local classic, the Tom Scott 10, in 1982, while his father and grandfather watched. Internationally, his 1980 New York Marathon performance produced almost too much adrenalin; and he particularly enjoyed his 1985 Rotterdam ‘race win’ when he outmanoeuvred a very classy pack, ignoring the great Carlos Lopez’s world-record-breaking 2.7.13.

There are so many John Graham stories, few publishable. John describes himself as ‘laughable and affable’ but very serious and disciplined about training. Although he himself could absorb the punishment without getting injured – a rare talent – his companions were less resilient. He used to run many miles with his dogs in Sutton Park until, it is rumoured, one suffered badly from shin-splints!

Considering his 1987 2.12.32 ‘slow’, John reduced his mileage and eventually stopped racing. Nowadays this talkative amusing extrovert states bluntly that many ambitious marathon runners simply do not train hard enough to succeed. Real speed as well as stamina must be developed and there is no easy way. He himself still runs twice a week, and before long he and Brendan Foster may make a pact to lose weight and strive to increase their fitness.

I recently asked John in an email what his training regime was and he replied as follows:

“Brian, the simple answer is hard work.   A sample week might have been – Monday: 10 miles then 5 miles fast; Tuesday: 10 miles plus ten miles then 10 miles at the club; Wednesday: Long run, anything from 90 minutes to 2:20 at a fast pace; Thursday: the same as Tuesday; Friday one easy run of ten miles; Saturday: Race or ten miles of efforts on grass and paths; Sunday: Long run between 1:30 and 2:30 and then track session in the afternoon.   The usual session was with Dave Moorcroft of (100+300 + 600)  x 5 with 3 minutes between sets.   600 was in 86, 300 in 43.   Then finish off with 4 sets of  4 x 50 metres flat out with 15 seconds between reps.   It was the end of a lovely week of pain but it worked for me.   I asked Deek what he did and it was exactly the same, session for session.

My coaches over the years started with Bert McKay who met me at 14.      He was a great motivator and pushed me to do 100% no less.   We have kept in touch to this day.   When I moved to England it was Maurice Millington from ’79 to ’82.   By the time I met Maurice I just needed someone to sound off to and get feedback from.   He was excellent and we never missed a day without seeing each other.  John Anderson was my coach from ’83 to ’87.   He had the hard man attitude I thought could take me to gold at the Olympics but we clashed.   Agreed on the need for speed in the marathon but there are different ways to achieve this and this is where we fell out – in a good way!   Always debating different training methods.   From ’87 to ’89 it was Alan Storey.   I enjoyed working with Alan and some of his sessions were the hardest I have ever done.   Example: Jog two miles to the start of the short stage of the 12 man relay then run the short stage in 15:00 – 15:15, then run one mile to the track then do 10 x (150, 300, 600)  then run the short leg again and run home.   Total time on my feet was about 2:56 and I just fell in the door!!!

One of my great heroes is Jim Brown.   I had the great pleasure of running with Jim when he was at his very best between the ages of 18 and 21.   He was the hardest man I have ever trained with and the only man to have a complete set of gold, silver and bronze in the Junior World Championships.   Clyde Valley was a great club to run with – Jim Brown, Ronnie McDonald, Brian McSloy, Colin Farquharson and Peter Fox – great days!!!

I have been lucky enough to meet the best in the world – I always listened to what kind of training they were doing and try it in my own way.   It seemed to work pretty well.”

So now you know.   When I asked Doug Gunstone why the standard of marathon running had slipped so much he said “they do too much training and not enough running.”   Whenever I look at what the top guys were doing I marvel at how much work the body can take.   John certainly deserved his success.

John Graham: Marathon Career Record

No Date Venue Position Time Winner (Club) Time
  1 03 May 1980 Milton Keynes (AAA)    DNF   Ian Thompson (Luton) 2:14:00
  2 08 June 1980 Laredo (ESP)         1 2:13:21  
  3 07 September 1980 Eugene, Oregon (USA)         8 2:15:04 Dick Quaz (New Zealand) 2:10:47
  4 26 October 1980 New York (USA)         3 2:11:46 Alberto Salazar (USA) 2:09:41
  5 08 February 1981 Auckland (NZ)     DNF   Dave Cannon (Gateshead) 2:12:53
  6 10 May 1981 Rugby (AAA)     DNF   Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:14:07
  7 23 May 1981 Rotterdam (NED)         1 2:09:28  
  8 13 September 1981 Agen (FRA) – Euro Cup     DNF   Massimo Magnani (ITA) 2:13:29
  9 25 October 1981 New York (USA)       44 2:19:13 Alberto Salazar (USA) 2:08:13
10 13 June 1982 Gateshead (AAA)         4 2:15:14 Steve Kenyon (Salford) 2:11:40
11 08 October 1982 Brisbane (AUS – Comm)         4 2:13:04 Rob DeCastella (AUS) 2:09:18
  09 April 1983 Rotterdam (NED)   Pace   Rob DeCastella (AUS) 2:08:37
12 23 October 1983 New York (USA)         5 2:10:57 Rod Dixon (New Zealand) 2:08:59
13 19 February 1984 Los Angeles (USA)     DNF   Gidamis Shahanga (TAN) 2:10:19
14 13 May 1984 London (AAA)         14 2:14:40 Charlie Spedding (Gateshead) 2:09:57
15 19 August 1984 San Francisco (USA)       17 2:23:48 Simon Kigen (KEN) 2:10:18
16 20 April 1985 Rotterdam (NED)         2 2:09:58 Carlos Lopes (POR) 2:07:12
17 20 October 1985 Chicago (USA)       12 2:12:55 Steve Jones (WAL) 2:07:13
18 19 April 1986 Rotterdam (NED)                     6 2:13:42 Abebe Mekonnen (ETH) 2:09:08
19 01 August 1986 Edinburgh (SCO – Comm)         4 2:12:10 Rob DeCastella (AUS) 2:10:15
20 18 April 1987 Rotterdam (NED)     DNF   Belayneh Dinsamo (ETH) 2:12:58
21 10 May 1987 London (AAA)       11 2:12:32 Horomi Tanaguchi (Japan) 2:09:50
22 15 January 1989 Marrakech (MAR)     DNF   Jean Weijts (BEL) 2:15:49
23 01 October 1989 Berlin (GER)     DNF   Alfredo Shahanga (TAN) 2:10:11

Bobbi Gibb

BG on the run

Bobbi Gibb, now and then

The Boston Marathon was held on Monday and it was the usual resounding success.   This year was slightly different – it was the fiftieth anniversary of the day that Kathy Switzer appeared in the race.    The details of her subterfuge to get entered in a men only race are well known and the assumption of most of the journalists who wrote about it was that it was the first time that a woman had run the distance.   Not true – for instance Scotland’s Dale Greig had run the Isle of Wight marathon in 1964, albeit unofficially without a race number and set a world record.   In New Zealand that record was broken three months later by Mildred Samson.   Even in America women had run the distance and, whisper it, the Boston had been run by a woman.   Bobbi Gibb ran in 1966 and was greeted at the finish by the Governor of Massachusettes.  She also ran in 1967 and finished an hour ahead of Switzer.   The best short account of her career is on the Wikipedia website and most of what follows comes from that source.

Roberta Louise “Bobbi” Gibb (born November 2, 1942 in Cambridge, Massachusettes) is the first woman to have run the entire Boston Marathon (1966) She is recognized by the Boston Athletic Association as the pre-sanctioned era women’s winner in 1966, 1967 and 1968 At the Boston Marathon, the pre-sanctioned era comprised the years from 1966 through 1971, when women, who were banned from entering because of their gender, ran and finished the race unofficially. In 1996 the B.A.A. retroactively recognized as champions the unofficial women’s leaders of 1966–71.

Gibb’s run in 1966 challenged prevalent prejudices and misconceptions about women’s athletic capabilities. In 1967, the second year of the later-to-be-recognized women’s division at Boston, she finished nearly an hour ahead of the other female competitor, Kathrine Switzer. . In 1968 Gibb finished first in a field of five women. It was not until late 1971, pursuant to a petition to the Amateur Athletic Union by Nina Kuscik, that the AAU changed its rules and began to sanction women’s division marathons.

BG quote

Before 1966, the longest AAU-sanctioned race for women was one and a half miles. Until 1972, when the first women’s division marathon opened, the Boston Marathon was a men’s division race, so all the pioneer women who ran before 1972 were, under the AAU rules, unsanctioned runners, running in an as yet to be sanctioned women’s division race.

Gibb trained for two years to run the Boston Marathon, covering as much as 40 miles in one day. On writing for an application in February 1966, she received a letter from the race director, Will Cloney, informing her that women were not physiologically capable of running marathon distances and that under the rules that governed amateur sports set out by the AAU, women were not allowed to run more than a mile and a half competitively. She realized that it was more important than ever to run and that her run would have a social significance far beyond just her own personal challenge.

After three nights and four days on a bus from San Diego, Gibb arrived the day before the race at her parents’ house in Winchester, Massachusettes On the morning of Patriots Day, April 19, 1966, her mother dropped her off at the start in Hopkinton. Wearing her brother’s Bermuda shorts and a blue hooded sweatshirtt over a black, tanked-top swim suit, she hid in the bushes near the starting pen. After the starting gun fired, she waited until about half the pack had started and then jumped into the race.

The men soon realized that she was a woman. Encouraged by their friendliness and support, she removed her sweatshirt. To her delight and relief, the crowds cheered to see a woman running. The press began to report on her progress.   Diana Chapman Walsh, later President of Wellesley College: 

That was my senior year at Wellesley. As I had done every spring since I arrived on campus, I went out to cheer the runners. But there was something different about that Marathon Day—like a spark down a wire, the word spread to all of us lining the route that a woman was running the course. For a while, the “screech tunnel” fell silent. We scanned face after face in breathless anticipation until just ahead of her, through the excited crowd, a ripple of recognition shot though the lines and we cheered as we never had before. We let out a roar that day, sensing that this woman had done more than just break the gender barrier in a famous race…

By the time Gibb reached the finish line in Boston, the Governor of Massachusetts, John Volpe, was there to shake her hand. She finished in three hours, twenty-one minutes and forty seconds, ahead of two-thirds of the runners. The following morning her feat was front page news in the Record American, where the headline read: “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon.” In another Record American article entitled “Roberta Gets Official Support: Females May Run Marathon,” Jack Kendall wrote:

Roberta the runner may revolutionize Boston’s fabled BAA marathon — and for that matter every other long distance run staged in the country. Even as the bunions acquired from Tuesday’s grueling 26 mile, 385 yard race were subsiding, the furor over a woman’s intrusion into what had been an all-male domain was mounting.

But a spokesman from the New England Amateur Athletic Union has already decided it may be a woman’s world after all.
He plans personally to contact the organization’s national headquarters and seek consideration for suspension of the NAAU rules so that a female who wishes to compete in the marathon can do so.
In his opinion the only way the rule could be circumvented would be through suspension of the rules.

The May 2, 1966, issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article written by Gwilym S. Brown entitled “A Game Girl In A Man’s Game”:

Last week a tidy-looking and pretty 23-year-old blonde named Roberta Gibb Bingay not only started but also covered the 26-mile, 385-yard course at a clip fast enough to finish ahead of no fewer than 290 of the event’s 415 starters.

In 1967, Gibb, by then a full-time student at the University of San Diego, California, ran again. She finished in three hours, twenty-seven minutes and seventeen seconds, almost an hour ahead of the other female competitor, Kathrine Switzer, who was famously subjected to a failed attempt by an official to remove her from the race, because she ran with numbers issued through an “oversight”. Gibb, who ran unnumbered, was not similarly bothered. In 1968, Gibb ran again, finishing in three hours and thirty minutes, first among a growing number of women, which included Carol Ann Pancko, Elaine Pederson, and Marjorie Fish. In 1969, 1970, and 1971, Sara Mae Berman was the women’s winner, and in 1972, Nina Kuscik was the winner of the first officially-sanctioned women’s division event.

In 1996, at the 100th running of the Boston Marathon and the 30th anniversary of Gibb’s first run of it, the BAA officially recognized her three wins in 1966, 1967, and 1968 and awarded her a medal. Her name was inscribed with the names of the other winners on the Boston Marathon Memorial in Copley Square.

In 2016, Gibb was the grand marshal of that year’s Boston Marathon..   That year’s female winner, Atsede Baysa, gave Gibb her trophy; Gibb said that she would go to Baysa’s native Ethiopia in 2017 and return it to her.

BG running

That’s where the Wiki article ends and you should really go there to follow up the rest of her career and the various links to other sources of information.   The follow up for athletics fans everywhere is that a group of female athletes have come together to raise money for a statue of Bobbi Gibbs to go up somewhere along the marathon trail.   I quote from the US version of ‘Just Giving’:

FirstGiving – Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project

Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project Announced
Joan Benoit Samuelson and a long list of Boston Marathon champions have united to form the Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project. The project’s goal is to raise funds to erect a sculpture of Gibb on the Boston Marathon course. In 1966, Gibb popped out from behind forsythia bushes in Hopkinton to become the first woman to run Boston. “As the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon, Bobbi Gibb opened up the door for all of us who followed,” notes Samuelson, a two-time Boston champ and winner of the first Olympic Marathon for women in 1984. “Without her courage and determination, we might never have gained the chance.” The Gibb marathon sculpture will actually be created by Gibb herself. She is an accomplished painter and sculptor who studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the mid-1960s–at the same time that she began running longer distances. “For 50 years, it has been my dream to sculpt a life-size woman runner to represent all the powerful women who have run Boston since 1966,” says Gibb. The Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project will be coordinated by the 26.2 Foundation, a Hopkinton-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has helped install other marathon statues in and around Hopkinton–all statues of male officials or runners. “We believe it is long past time to recognize the Boston Marathon’s great women runners,” says Tim Kilduff, of the 26.2 Foundation. “The fact that Boston’s first woman runner is also a great sculptor makes this project absolutely unique and appropriate.”

The address of this site is    https://www.firstgiving.com/5280_1/bobbi-gibb-fundraiser The signatures at the foot of the page are  The Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project plans to raise funds from corporate sources, but primarily from modest donations by women’s running supporters worldwide. The following Boston Marathon champions have all volunteered to serve on the Advisory Committee.

Sara Mae Berman, 1969, 1970, 1971
Nina Kuscsik, 1972 (first official women’s champ at Boston)
Jackie Hansen, 1973
Gayle Barron, 1978
Jacqueline Gareau, 1980
Lisa Weidenbach Rainsberger, 1985
Amby Burfoot, 1968
Bill Rodgers, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980
Jack Fultz, 1976
Greg Meyer, 1983
Meb Keflezighi, 2014

Bobbi was the first woman to run Boston, first in three consecutive years, the first to run the race fifty years after she first won it and yet is barely known outside the USA running fraternity.  So tell your friends and club mates that she is the real Boston heroine.

She did an interview with Runners World in 2017, with Amby Burfoot reprised below.

After I finished the Boston Marathon in 1966, some kind soul draped a wool blanket over my shoulders. Several days later, my mother and I realized we still had it at our house. We went to Jock’s office in the old Boston Garden to return it and talked for a long time. We talked about my grandfather, who was Scottish like Jock. He wasn’t hostile at all. Years later, he said he had seen me running without a number, so it was no problem at all.

Jock had great respect for women athletes. He said his mother was a good athlete in her day. The Boston Marathon was his life, and he was just trying to protect its integrity when he saw Kathrine’s number in 1967. I started up in the front row that year. Everyone was chatting happily with me—the officials, the press. No problem. I didn’t have a number and no one tried to stop me. I just stood on the side of the road and waited for half the field to go past me so I could fall in with runners going at my pace.

BG Hub Br

There is an excellent article on Bobbi Gibb on the BBC website just now by Olivier Guiberteau which goes into much more detail on her marathon career.   Read it by clicking on the link  or if you cannot get it, there is a copy  here .

What Did The RRC Ever Do For Scots?

Encouraged by Geoff Stott’s recent contribution, I decided to submit an article. Long ago, while at Aberdeen University, I first became aware of the Road Runners Club when I took part in one of Scotland’s most famous road races: The Tom Scott Memorial Ten Miles, from Law to Motherwell. The distance may well have been accurate, but the first mile was steeply downhill, and Scotland’s best runners often participated, so times were always fast. In 1968, at the age of 20, I finished 24th in 53.22 and discovered that this was only just outside the “1st Class Standard” of 53 minutes. Older Aberdeen AAC runners, like Alastair Wood and Donald Ritchie, who both went on to win the London to Brighton in very fast times, and who also tended to ‘murder’ me on long Sunday runs, talked about the RRC; and I must have joined not long thereafter. My membership number is 3882 and, since then, I have continued to pay my subscription every year.

I did so, motivated by the RRC Standards Scheme (and of course the excellent magazine). Yes, there were not many races in Scotland that were recognised, but to gain a First Class Certificate, by achieving this standard at three different distances in a single year, was definitely possible, if I continued to train hard and mature into a decent senior athlete. Road was definitely my best surface during peak years, since I lacked the gymnastic and mud-skipping skills to succeed in cross-country and did not have enough middle distance speed to excel.

In 1969, although the Tom Scott results sheet showed me scraping under 1st Class Standard with 52.44, my race certificate stated only 2nd Class! Unfinished business, then. Later that year, aged 21, I ran my first marathon – Inverness to Forres – in 2.41.13, so maybe I had potential at longer distances.

Eventually, in 1972, representing Victoria Park AAC in Glasgow, since I had started work there as a teacher of English, but also Aberdeen AAC second-claim, I obtained a treasured RRC First Class Certificate: second in the Scottish Track Ten Miles in 50.15; the Morpeth to Newcastle 13 and a half in 1.09.11; and third in the Scottish Marathon in 2.26.45 (after striking a very large ‘wall’ about 23!) Alastair Wood, who I had kept up with for 16 miles, easily won his sixth title, fully five minutes in front.


Earlier in 1972 I had taken part in Aberdeen AAC’s attempt to break the record for the ten-man John o’Groats to Land’s End Relay. We failed by half an hour; but succeeded a year later by running one hour faster. It was educational to plumb new depths of exhaustion while continuing to do my best; but truly inspiring to watch in action amazing team-mates like our charismatic but sarcastic guru Alastair Wood, Steve Taylor, Sandy Keith, Rob Heron and Joe Clare. Some very good marathon and ultra runners there! In 1982 we took another hour and three quarters off this mark, with stars like Graham Laing and Fraser Clyne, as well as the almost indefatigable Wood and legendary Ritchie. 850 miles in 77 hours 24 minutes and 8 seconds.

Alastair Wood 1972 L2B

Alastair Wood after smashing the 1972 London to Brighton Record

My own best ever run was my first Scottish Marathon win in 1975, when a new Championship record was set: 2.16.50, with Sandy Keith a minute behind. Max Coleby (Gateshead Harriers) and I (Edinburgh Southern Harriers) represented GB in the Berchem International Marathon in Antwerp that autumn, and won the team race, beating Eire and all the continentals. In the Two Bridges 36, I was three minutes behind the great Cavin Woodward at ten miles, but had clawed back a few seconds by the finish, securing second place in 3.29.44 – this was my first venture beyond the marathon.

Although I managed to break 2.20 another eight times over the next ten years, and ran quite frequently for Scotland, mainly in Home Countries Marathon Internationals (my team even beat the other three plus Eire in Glasgow 1983) I seldom dared to attempt an ultra. Yes, I paid close attention to RRC Standard Times at other distances (especially after reaching veteran status and then continuing through the age-groups), but sadly never took part in RRC Championships, despite racing more than fifty marathons all over Europe, including the Marathon to Athens, plus Boston, USA.


Colin Youngson (02) in a Scottish vest, leading the 1985 Aberdeen International Marathon. England’s Dave Catlow (04) won this race, with Colin second.

One exception was in October 1980, when I finally summoned up the nerve to attempt the most famous RRC race of them all: the London to Brighton Road Race (that year, a daunting 54 and a quarter miles in length). On the Westminster Bridge start-line, I introduced myself to Gloucester AAC’s future 24 hour world record breaker Dave Dowdle, and ran with him and his team-mate Ken Leyshon at a sensible speed for a very long time. At 40 miles, having missed a drinks station (where I was looking forward to a glucose-based potion plus a plastic bag of dates!) I began to hit the proverbial, but soldiered on, better up Dale Hill than down, due to knackered quads. I had been warned that ‘Welcome to Brighton’ meant six miles to go! Eventually I plodded over the finish line, my legs wobbled and I had to be helped into the famous Baths, which had individual cubicles. The water there proved to be not far off boiling – scream! However the heat helped tired muscles and sipping cool water started recovery. The afternoon was spent eating ice cream, drinking coke and chatting to other survivors. Former European and Commonwealth Marathon Champion Ian Thompson had smashed the average time per mile record, and was 37 minutes faster than my 7th place in 5.52.04, but even that was 35 minutes inside First Class. My award was the smallest medal ever but, for me, one of the most important. At last I could claim to be a true RRC member.

In 1984 I was a struggling third, a very long way behind my old friend Don Ritchie in the 50 miles Edinburgh to Glasgow solo road race, which went from Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh, to George Square, Glasgow. Donald and I (Aberdeen AAC) won the team prize. That was almost the end of ultras for me, although I had won the 1986 28 Mile Lairig Ghru Race, and finished fourth in the 1980 Two Bridges, as well as reasonable performances in a couple of Speyside Way 50kms in the mid 1990s.

After I hit 50, due to weaker legs which could no longer pound out adequate mileage, marathons gave me up (although I did win one British Veterans M45 title at the 1993 Flying Fox event in Stone, Staffs.); and since then my better age-group efforts have been in the annual British and Irish Masters International XC or on the track. Nowadays, daily jogging seems almost enough, in the pleasant wooded environment of Forres, Moray. However it is good to look back on distant memories of good competitive road-racing, when I met world-class athletes as well as enjoying the friendliness of so many fellow runners. Credit must be given for the initial impetus provided by that motivating organisation, the Road Runners Club.

Colin Youngson, Forres Harriers.

Ian Macintosh

Ian Ath

(Ian ought to be much better known in Scotland. He had a long, successful running career, producing fast times and representing Great Britain, as well as being the 1978 Scottish Marathon Champion. Nearly all of the following profile is taken directly from a long, fascinating email.)

I was born in Balfron Road, Govan, Glasgow on 31st December 1943; and moved with my parents to West London when I was seven years old.    I was a bit of a cyclist early on, winning a couple of London Schoolboy TT champs but started cross country running at Sloane Grammar School on a day when Football was cancelled. Our playing fields were close to Wimbledon Common and I quite enjoyed the afternoon out on a run in my footie boots.  Interestingly a certain John Bicourt, from the opposing football team and Belgrave Harriers, came along as well. In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, John ran in the steeplechase.

The school had had some good runners before this but there had been a hiatus and the master in charge decided to organise a few cross-country matches with other schools. I soon found myself scraping into the London team for the Schools Inter Counties at Birkenhead which was a bit of an eye opener. It was at this time I joined Ranelagh Harriers, one of the original country and road clubs in the London area, and in September 1960, after I had left school, started training in earnest, racing on the country and in road relays. This suited me fine.

In 1961 at age 19 I ran 50 14 in the Reading 10; and 50.04 in the Shaftesbury 10 so people took an interest in me.    I had joined Springburn Harriers at this time and ran a couple of Junior XC championships with them as well as a couple of Edinburgh to Glasgow Relays.

(In the 1964 E to G, Ian ran the important Stage Two, gaining three places, and Springburn finished ninth. In 1967 they improved to seventh, with Ian tackling that other prestige leg, Six. He ran faster than Alastair Wood and only five seconds slower than Fergus Murray. The Springburn team that day included the experienced Tom O’Reilly and good younger runners like Harry Gorman and Eddie Knox.)

Springburn had a very youthful team at that time, with some very talented young runners, who were far better than me, particularly on the country.

(Ian is rather modest here. In the 1964 Scottish Junior National Cross Country he finished 8th and was first home for Springburn. Ian Young was 17th and the team fourth – only six points from bronze medals. The following year Ian was tenth Junior, just behind Alistair Blamire and ahead of Jim Wight, both of whom were in the winning Edinburgh University team.)

At the age of 21 I ran three 20 milers, including the Inter Counties, all under 1hr 50m. At that time there were a lot of good young distance runners around. Where are they nowadays?

The next year, 1966, I ran my first Marathon, the Oxfam, finishing 2nd on a stinking hot day in 2hr 35.Two years later I won it, again on a hot August day in 2.22.05. I always seemed to get very hot days, and seemed to cope better than nearly all the other runners, but the consequence was the times were slowed.


Ian Macintosh leading in the 1966 Finchley 10, in front of Peter Yates on the left and Colin Kirkham on the right. Ian finished second to Peter.

I continued on the road and country with very occasional track races in the Insurance Championships at Motspur Park.   One of my memories during the 60s was running in a flooded Basildon 10 where we had to paddle through a couple of road underpasses. A photograph of Gerry North and me, wading through water, was shown on the front of ‘Athletics Weekly’. Gerry beat me in a sprint finish and we ran 51.20-ish.

[In 1968 Ian produced some good times: 6 miles (29.08.6 – 6th in the Scottish rankings); 10,000m (30.38.0 – 2nd); and marathon (2.22.05 – 6th). Then, in 1969, his marathon time of 2.23.44 was ranked 5th fastest.]

A good run, at the Maxol Marathon in 1969, got me a GB trip to Enschede in Holland where, after running a personal best 10k in 30m 30sec, I fell apart in the last 5km  to finish 4th, after having led for about half the race. This one was not on a hot day: it actually poured with rain for most of the afternoon. Well, I gave it a go!


Ian Macintosh, wearing a GB vest, leading at Enschede 1969, in front of John Fewery and Matsubara of Japan. Ian was fourth at the finish of this famous race.

I continued running on the road throughout the 70s, with a best 10 miles time of 48.50; a Half Marathon of 66.20; 20 miles in 1.41.13 and my fastest Marathon.   It was the time of the full carbohydrate bleed-out diet. (Thanks, Ron Hill). I tried it and, during the previous week at work, I was falling asleep at my desk.  On the Saturday, as races were in those days, I jogged it with no verve at all and finished in 2.21.30 sec. In 28th place!! This was easily my lowest position ever in a race, apart from the National XC. The next day I did a 20 mile training run, feeling brilliant. I had been a day out in my timing. (Nevertheless, Ian’s marathon time was sixth in the 1972 Scottish rankings.)

The club also completed the Offa’s Dyke Relay and the Pennine Way in record times, much to the chagrin of some Northern clubs, who thought, as a London-based club, we were not worthy.  At one stage I was part of the three-man team, with Chris Brasher and Dr Ian Milne, that broke the South Downs record – some 80 miles. Three men in a car. One runs a stage, one drives and one navigates. Then you change roles for the next stage and so on. All good fun but quite exhausting.

It was Chris Brasher who suggested that I run the Scottish Marathon in 1978. Chris was a bit of a mentor to me and I had just run the Ranelagh Club 10 mile road race in 49.30 on a hilly course in Richmond Park one Wednesday evening and, over a beer or two afterwards, he said I should enter.

The tale of Ian’s 1978 Scottish Marathon victory was told in a book about the event’s history – ‘A Hardy Race’ – as follows .

“Ian Macintosh of Ranelagh Harriers had never considered himself an Anglo Scot because both his parents were Scots and he had been born in Glasgow, living in Govan until he moved to London in 1952. Ian had run Scottish Junior Cross Country races for Springburn Harriers.

In April 1978 Ian had some dental work done and, within a week he was ‘flying’. His usual plan involved very little training (but a few cross country races) in January and February. He was only 5 feet 5 inches in height and weighed ‘eight stone and a couple of pounds dripping wet’. In March he went straight into several weeks of eighty to 120 mile weeks, all run at under six minute miling! He believes he got away with this because of his weight and natural style and cadence. He used to race the Finchley 20 and maybe the Inter-Counties 20 a few weeks later.

In the Ranelagh 10, over a hilly course, Ian surprised Bob Richardson, an English Cross Country International, by beating him by a minute in 49.30. In the bar afterwards, Chris Brasher (of Bannister mile, Olympic Steeplechase and London Marathon fame) suggested to Ian that, since it was Commonwealth Games year, he ought to try for the Scottish Marathon team. Jim Dingwall had already been selected. Ian knew Bob Dalgleish through his Springburn connection, so phoned him up. Bob got him into the SAAA race as a late entry, telling him that he had to win the race and run 2.18 or faster to be considered.

He came up to Glasgow on the Friday, complete with a medical certificate that he was fit to run – the first time he had been asked to provide such a document. The conversation with his doctor went something like the following:

Doc     ‘How are you?’

Ian       ‘Very well, thank you.’

Doc     ‘Then why are you wasting my time?’

Unfortunately it was to be the hottest June day in 25 years, with the temperature touching 90 degrees – so fast times seemed very unlikely, despite the fact that Ian ran well in the heat. His kit at the time was a light pair of New Balance racers, a white thin mesh vest with the Springburn diamond badge, Ron Hill Freedom shorts and white socks with red and white stripes with the tops turned down to the ankles.

Ian remembered the route as probably similar to the 1970 Commonwealth route, which he had watched. At that time he and his friends camped at Musselburgh and ran up the hill to Meadowbank each day.

The Scottish Marathon in 1978 was ‘run at a fairly fast rate despite the heat. By the return journey, Don Macgregor had gained a couple of hundred yards on me and there was a large gap behind. It was a fairly lonely run back to Edinburgh but as we came through a built up area, there was Alan Storey (later to be London Marathon organiser) with a pint of beer in his hand. Alan told me that Don looked to be struggling and that I could catch him. They all say that, don’t they?

Yet that was exactly what happened. I caught Don on the hill before the stadium and won by a hundred metres or so. As I passed him he did question my parentage. I can remember that as I finished Leslie Watson was winning the Women’s 1500.’

The result was: first Ian Macintosh 2.23.07; second Don Macgregor 2.23.33; third Eric Fisher (EAC) 2.28.15.

Ian adds that they had slowed considerably because of the heat. His shoulders were quite sunburnt. He didn’t realise that the finish was shown live on Scottish TV. His sister in law in Arbroath saw this and phoned Ian’s wife, so that when he got back to London he was greeted with ‘So you won, then?’

As predicted, the hot weather made Commonwealth Games selection impossible. And in fact, although Ian was promised a representative vest for Scotland in another fixture, he is still waiting for the phonecall. From his Finchley 20 performances of 1.40 – 1.44, he felt he had the potential to run a marathon in 2.15 – but it was never to be. In retrospect Ian feels that SAAA officials were parochial in their choice of athletes for Scottish teams. He cites the more recent case of that fine marathon runner Karen McLeod, born in Skye, who spent a fortune travelling from Bath to represent ESH, before at last her performances were recognised.

Subsequently, Ian Macintosh helped with the City of Bath Half Marathon; and at the Championship desk at the London Marathon. In 1990 he was team manager (for England) at the Aberdeen Home Countries International (and SAAA) Marathon. The winner was Chris Tall of England. As he was presented with the Scottish Marathon Quaich, he shouted to Ian that the name of Macintosh was engraved for 1978. Ian didn’t even know there was a trophy – he’d only been given a medal. So the morning after the 1990 race, officials gravely presented Ian with the trophy – better late than never!

Ian continues:   I moved with my work to Bristol in 1979, the year after my Scottish Marathon win and joined  Bath and Percy AC . We renamed it after a couple of years City of Bath AC and now, based at the University, it is Team Bath.

In 1981 I ran in the Athens Marathon. The event was delayed for three days because of their first democratic General Elections. Again my attempt at a modified diet was foiled. The start was a shambles and I never got into the front bunch but worked my way through to another fourth. Another hot day, finishing in the original Olympic Stadium.  Next day I ran from my cousin’s flat into town and back. Nearly 40 Km: feeling as good if not better than I did in the race.


1981: Ian heading for fourth place in the Classic Marathon to Athens race.

From small beginnings we started the City of Bath Half Marathon with me as race director, and it became what we like to think as the most competitive club-organised half marathon in the country. I was Race director for some 12 years, after which I handed the reins over to others in the club. I was also involved with the organisation of many other races around Bath, Bristol and  the local area, during a great period of club running. Sadly many of those events no longer exist

I had also become course measurer and was involved with the first London Marathon, as well as helping out with various duties prior to the race in later years, mainly through Chris Brasher and Hugh Jones.

I had also been invited to become an England and GB road Team Manager, and managed on a couple of trips abroad and with England to the International team races held in events at Livingston and at one of the Aberdeen Marathons. It was here that, as mentioned in ‘A Hardy Race’, I found out about the Scottish Marathon Winners’ Quaich – the A.H. Blair Memorial Trophy.

Nowadays (2016) I’m not really involved, other than as a Trustee of Avon County AA, and listening to my friend John Robbins, who is County President, whinging about the complications and frustrations of trying to keep local grass-roots athletics, road and XC running smoothly.

I thought a few years ago, when I was County Chairman, that they, the powers that be, were trying to make the lines of communication simpler, but there now seem to be so many committees and advisory groups sticking their noses in, that I’m glad I now have other hobbies to keep my brain engaged.

With my friend John, we now walk our old training routes, around the East of Bristol and into the hills above Bath and in the Avon Valley, rather than run. It just takes at least twice as long.




Mel Edwards: The First Fifty


In response to an invitation to do so, Mel wrote his own account of his first 50 years in the sport – fascinating, humorous but mainly informative and certainly inspirational they are among the best running stories I have ever read.

ME First 50 1

ME First 50 2

ME First 50 3

ME First 50 4

ME First 50 5

ME First 50 6

ME First 50 7

ME First 50 8

ME First 50 9

ME First 50 10

You can see from that exposition why we just reproduced his own words – more detailed and eloquent than we could ever be!   Mel’s son Myles, who is referred to in the text, is also a runner but he has an excellent blog which has two articles in particular about Mel.

  1. At http://mylesedwards.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/cancer-facing-tough-opponent is an article called ‘Cancer Facing A Tough Opponent’ about his Dad’s attitude to the diagnosis, treatment, etc.
  2. Am article called ‘Some Things Never Change’ appeared on his blog at http://mylesedwards.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/some-things-never-change

Both are beautifully written, interesting as articles in their own right, but very informative about Mel.

Mel Bobby Charlie

 Bobby Shields, Mel Edwards and Charlie Ramsey in 1964

James Alexander Youngson: Athlete


20/7/1913 – 5/11/1992

Dad was interviewed by The People’s Journal for the edition published on Saturday, October 10th 1981. The article is typed up in full; and I can sympathise now with his memory being inaccurate at times!

                        SPORTING HIGHLIGHTS


 In the opinion of many folk, the top performance in the recent City of Aberdeen Milk Marathon came from 68-year-old James Youngson, who finished 201st in 3 hours 31 minutes 16 seconds.  This sprightly pensioner was a keen athlete in his younger days, but returned to competitive running only three years ago.  James explains, “When I was at school in the 1920s, you had to be in the first X1 or XV or you weren’t very highly regarded. That was until a chap called Jock Kerr Hunter (later to become adviser to the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation) arrived at Gordon’s College and he encouraged everyone to take part in some sport. In those days there were about six athletic clubs in the city and, as a member of Y.M.C.A. Harriers, I achieved some success in mile and two-mile events.”At the age of 16, James became infatuated with the Cairngorms and made regular cycling trips with two friends to the mountains.   When war came in 1939, James did a stint of four years overseas. “Nine months from demob (in 1945), I was asked to start a physical training session for my unit. I had to instruct everyone, including the C.O.”


Towards the end of his army service he caught typhoid fever and in later life T.B. He fought back from illness and carried on hill climbing and cycling to keep up his fitness.   Then, in 1978 (actually September 1977), the council announced a ‘Fit Like’ campaign (part of Sport for All week?) to encourage people to exercise to improve their fitness. The scheme included walking, jogging, cycling and swimming (he only watched the latter, enviously).   “After finishing second in the ‘Fit Like’ scheme, I rediscovered my enthusiasm for running, which I hadn’t taken part in since 1945,” he says.  So, after six months training (no – almost two years!), and at the age of 65 (actually 66), James entered the 1978 (actually 1979) City of Aberdeen Milk Marathon.

His son Colin is the current Scottish marathon champion and has won many other events, including two Swedish marathons. Colin finished third in the 1979 event, but what of his father? “I expected to come in last and I did,” laughs James, but he did complete a tiring course in four hours five minutes.   Undeterred, he joined the Scottish Veteran Harriers club in Glasgow last year.


James came third in the M65 age group in the World Veterans’ Marathon Championship. He was second Scot home (behind Gordon Porteous). Three men counted, and M65 was the only Scottish Veteran team to win gold medals in Glasgow 1980. 

Having lowered his personal best in that event, he had high hopes entering the city marathon the following month. James won the over-60s prize, but was disappointed with his performance.  This year’s 201st place was achieved in an excellent time, a new personal best, but he feels capable of lowering that by eleven minutes.  And what of the future?   “I intend to keep on running because I enjoy it. I know of one man who is 70 and still going strong, so I feel I’ve got a bit to go.”   James feels very strongly about fitness. “Too many people come home from work and flop down in front of the television when they should be out getting fit. There are so many different ways to keep fit apart from jogging.”

Dad, ever the enthusiast, kept cuttings, race numbers, a few medals (including an Aberdeen Milk Marathon one), a trophy, certificates and congratulatory notes from Mel Edwards. Fact or part-fantasy, his interviews are always interesting to read.

One newspaper photo from September 1977 captures Dad in a shoulder stand in the coal cellar, surrounded by crates of home-brew bottles. The article states as follows. “All this week a 64 year-old-man has been running the pants off  20 and 30-year-olds to become the favourite for the best competitor award in Grampian’s ‘Sport For All Week (eventually he finished runner-up and, on checking his diaries, this must have been the ‘Fit Like’ scheme).   Mr James Youngson, of 49 Hamilton Place, beat a University rower, a physical training instructor and 12 other competitors to win a two-mile race, was beaten by only ten seconds in a four-mile walk and came fourth in a six-mile cycle race.   Mr Youngson, the oldest competitor in last night’s race along the promenade, won by fully 40 seconds in a time of 13 minutes 9 seconds.   Today he was thrilled at his performance, although a little sore after it, when he told the E.E. about his secret.   ‘Yoga,’ he said, ‘Is the answer for physical fitness – for giving that bit of energy and push.’   Mr Youngson admitted it was crazy at his age he should be beating people, in some cases, more than 40 years younger than himself.

But his incredible achievement is down to simple hard work – sessions of yoga, bouts of jogging and lots of walking. He has twice tried to locate the source of the River Dee by walking its entire length; and spent a week jogging in preparation for this week’s events.   His advice is to take some exercise every day. ‘There are 24 hours in the day and no one can say there is not time. People could do a set of relaxing exercises in the evening before having a cup of tea or a pint.’”

I have a newspaper photo of Dad (in hooped shirt and normal grey trousers) and others jogging for the Evening Express cameraman in the Duthie Park. In 1978 he did jog down there and at Hazlehead on several Sundays, culminating in the sponsored ‘Jog-Walk’ which he took very seriously (26 laps, but felt he could do better in future). In mid-December 1978 he ran a six-mile cross-country race at Balgownie.

On Saturday 24th February 1979 he travelled with good ‘young vet’ Aberdeen AAC runners to the Scottish Veterans 10,000 metres cross-country championships on Irvine Moor, Ayrshire. There he finished 89th from 111 and was timed at 43.40, winning a proper Scottish Cross-Country Union plaque for second over-60, behind a great runner, John Emmet Farrell. Dad’s diary comments: “Feel a bit frustrated at not being able to really challenge him.”  He took part in a May 1979 ‘National Jogging Day’ five-mile run from Fetternear, Kemnay. In June, according to the E.E. “Mr James Youngson, who celebrates his 66th birthday next month, put to shame” all the hundreds of other participants in the Jog-Walk for charity in Duthie Park, since “he had to be forcibly stopped in his tracks at the end of the afternoon and finished with a grand total of 33 laps” (each of three-quarters of a mile, apparently). On the 16th September that year in the inaugural Aberdeen Marathon he was actually last (59th) equal with a young guy from California (quite a few had dropped out on a very tough course) in 4.05.39. Dad’s diary thanks the American for his companionship and notes “Shattered but gradually recover.” Then on 16th December he ran the Hydrasun cross-country at Balgownie, triumphantly noting on his race number ‘3rd last’; and that Mum sat in the restaurant until the race was over and then had to give him a lift home in the car! In his diary he notes about the race: “Heavy going but happy.”

1980 events included managing 18 miles in a Hazlehead Park sponsored walk in April; and completing the 4th Annual Scolty Hill Race in Banchory. I also remember him really enjoying the Aberdeen AAC club half marathons (From and to the Bridge of Dee: out the North Deeside Road, turn left at Milltimber Brae and again at the Mill Inn, then in the South Deeside Road.) Dad said it was his favourite distance because, unlike after full marathons, he could then enjoy wolfing down a big meal! On the 24rd of August, he took part in the World Friendship Jog before running the marathon in the 13th Annual World Veteran Championship Marathon, around Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. I was a jogging supporter that day, and can assert that Dad’s 3 hours 45minutes 21 seconds (for 3rd M65) was slowed somewhat by his prostate – no less than six comfort breaks! His age-group team gold (with other M65s, the great Gordon Porteous and Bert Grant) was his country’s only one. The World Veterans team gold medal and (silver individual one for third place) are delightful thistle-shaped designs by Carrick Jewellery Ltd. (I was overjoyed to obtain a World Vets team gold medal as third counter for GB in the 1999 World Vets M50 Cross-Country, thus almost equalling my father, although I could only manage 7th in my race …..) Then his ‘disappointing’ run on 28th September 1980 in the Aberdeen Marathon produced a good time of 3.36.18.

Although 1981 saw the highlight of Dad’s comeback; it was also the beginning of the end, for running at least. In March at the age of 67, he was interviewed just before the first London Marathon (the photo showed him racing along grinning). “It won’t be so much a case of stamina and will to win as a triumph of mind over body.” He had decided not to compete himself since it seemed too much of a commercial event. “Those watching the marathon should bear in mind that it does not really matter where you finish. The majority of the field will be setting out to prove something to themselves, and at the end of the day, life without a challenge means very little.” The reporter, Russell Smith, goes on “And who better to pass judgement on the marathon than a man who has, in his time, recorded 3 hours 36 minutes despite a history of malaria, tuberculosis and – worst of all – a complete mental breakdown.” (Bet Mum loved that!)

‘Long-distance running was my salvation after that breakdown, which was caused by pressure of work. At first it seemed daft that a man in advanced years should even contemplate such an energetic pursuit. Those who witnessed my first attempts quite rightly looked on me as a silly old man.’  

But having beaten the doubters and won his battle with fitness, James Youngson now has a message for those in middle age. ‘You don’t know what you are missing,’ he says, ‘Give it a try – whether it be walking, jogging or running. Exercise – to a suitable timetable – opens so many new doors. It does not need to be competitive. In my case running seemed to be a logical extension to the hill-walking I undertook as a means of beating my mental breakdown.’  

Since those early days, the Youngson fitness formula has encompassed yoga, meditation and a proper diet along the road to the top as one of Scotland’s leading veteran runners. Running 50 or 60 miles a week (Wow!) keeps him in trim for the next challenge, just possibly a crack at the New York Marathon, along with his son Colin.”

He ran an impressive 39 laps in the Evening Express Jog Walk at the Duthie Park on 14th June 1981. The programme for the 27th September 1981 City of Aberdeen Milk Marathon includes 14 ‘Pen Portraits – Athletes to Watch’. Those with photographs are: Alastair Wood; Don Ritchie; Fraser Clyne; Colin Youngson; and James Youngson of Aberdeen A.A.A.C. “Now aged 68, set his best time of 3.36.18 in last year’s race when winning the over 60 class. Father of Colin.” Dad just loved publicity! Race day was wet and windy, and the course typically far from flat. Unfortunately I had a sore throat, a stomach bug and surprisingly enough sense to avoid taking part. Dad, however, (who may even have tried the pre-marathon carbo-loading diet) arrived at the Duthie Park finish full of life, terribly apologetic about having run right away from his 47 year-old club-mate Ian Morrison. A great performance, which is still the Aberdeen AAC M65 club marathon record in 2010. His diary comments: “Very windy but with strength from God and Lord Jesus, do 3.31. Very stiff but enjoy a meal when I get home.”

However Dad had a cataract operation shortly after this, and by the time he did his best to run the 1982 Jog Walk at Linksfield, he was suffering badly from giddiness, which made further racing impossible. Probably taking part in the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association 1983 centenary year ‘Round Scotland Relay’ was his last hurrah, although he continued to walk as fast as he could for several years.


Impressed though I am by Dad’s comeback running (even more impressed, now I approach my 63rd birthday myself), I was intrigued about the running he did in his youth. There were clues: his Gordonians blues blazer, tie and scarf (dated 1933-34); a personal best mile mentioned as 4 minutes 40 seconds; a North Eastern Harriers Association medal engraved on the back ‘3 Miles 1934-35’; a weird anonymous medal with a design, which could just be Egyptian.   Then there was the battered little presentation case of six knives (Sheffield England; Stainless De Luxe) which he boasted he had won (under an assumed name, to preserve his amateur status) for winning a mile on the professional Aboyne Highland Games grass track. In the town of his childhood at Birse Cottage, and probably in front of the King. No prize his son Colin could ever win, he insisted, could ever compare with these! (In July 1989, my three boys were mildly amused onlookers when I too entered under a pseudonym (‘Jim Alexander from Aboyne’!) and finished third in half-mile and mile races at the professional Taynuilt Highland Games, winning a couple of fivers and escaping detection by SAAA snoopers!)

Of course ‘young Dad’ must also have been ‘cross-training’ like crazy, as well as running, and race-walking to and from Burtons, via Jack’s Brae: sea swimming on the first of January or in the salt water Beach Baths or even in Egyptian brine; cycling up to Ballater after work on Saturdays, staying at a Youth Hostel, and then taking his  racing bike through the Lairig Ghru; sleeping in mountain bothies and ditches; speedy hill-walking away from Jimmy Chivas; playing football, badminton and basketball and striding out briskly in the Egyptian desert while towing dogs called Joe, Bess or Ena; and (mainly after the war, I believe) taking part in time-trial fixed-gear bike races on the South Deeside Road.

Hunter Watson, the long-time Aberdeen AAC secretary and historian, offered more information in a club magazine. Apparently, during the two World Wars, the association of local clubs was renamed the North Eastern Harriers Association (NEHA), and the 3-Miles team Road Race usually took place in December. Another regular event was the Round the Town Relay. The YM Harriers were often the best team in Aberdeen during the 1930s (others included Aberdeenshire Harriers, Aberdeen University, Shamrock Harriers and Caledonian Harriers). Prominent YM athletes at that time included the Milne twins, Alex and George, who did especially well in five and seven mile races. (Auntie Peggy Dad’s older sister, married an Alexander (Alec) R. Milne, who died on 28th February 1978. He was a retired Aberdeen Savings Bank manager (Holburn Branch); and his last address was 1 Hopecroft Gardens, Bucksburn. In Aberdeenshire ‘Alex’ is usually pronounced Alec. Had Peggy first met him due to the fact that her brother Jim was a team-mate of Alex in the YM Harriers? Maybe I will find out Alex’s date of birth via his death certificate; and then ascertain whether he had a twin brother called George!)

The club rented a wooden hut on the south bank of the River Dee, upstream from the Victoria Bridge. This hut belonged to a swimming club. Lighting was by paraffin lamp, and water had to be carried in from the outside and heated over a stove lit by the athletes. A zinc bath was used for sponging after training runs. Track training was carried out on a cinder running track in Linksfield Road. When they all went out for a cross-country or road training run, a ‘Pace-maker’ and a ‘Whip’ were appointed, to make sure that the pack stayed together, until near the end when they were free to race home. (Even when I ran for Victoria Park AAC in Glasgow in the early 1970s, a similar system operated, with a slow pack going off first, and then the fast pack to chase them round a certain traditional road route.) Then in August 1939 the YM Harriers agreed that the club should go into abeyance until the war situation became clear. War was declared on 1st September; and the club was never formally reconstituted. However some of its trophies are still competed for by Aberdeen AAC.

On the quest to find out about Dad the young athlete, I went to Aberdeen Public Library and looked up microfilm of old editions of ‘The Press & Journal’ and ‘The Evening Express’.

He left Gordon’s College at the age of 15, probably in 1928, but retained his link with the school as a Gordonian. His Blues Scarf has the dates 1933-34. Was this for summer track athletics or winter road and cross-country? On Saturday 17th June 1933, the Evening Express has a brief mention of an athletics contest between Aberdeen University and Gordonians at King’s College grass track (where I also raced many times in the 1960s and 1970s). The Students won, but five Gordonians, including ‘J.A.Youngson’ are reported to have done well! The reporter was ‘confident that, with a bit more training, Gordonians will give their rivals a better tussle’. Dad may also have competed for Gordonians at King’s in a five-team athletics match on 5th August 1933. ‘Varsity’ won; with Shire Harriers second; Gordonians third; in front of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers (!) and Aberdeen YMCA. By the way, until the 1970s it was traditional to refer to athletes by their initials in sports reports. Hence J.A. Youngson. I remember Mum saying that some of Dad’s pre-war friends used to call him JAY rather than James or Jim!

(In his diary on March 4th 1978, Dad mentions going down to King’s College and jogging round the field “which takes me back some 40 years. Very enjoyable. Manage 9 laps plus and ease-off lap. Home to a large meal.”)

So how about the 1933-34 Winter Season? Well although Gordonians had a pretty good athletics team, it seems that they could not field a squad to take part in cross-country events. This would explain why there is no mention of Dad taking part in the NEHA fixtures that season. It also explains why he later changed clubs, joining Aberdeen YMCA Harriers in early Winter 1934.   On December 14th 1933, the EE published a timewarp photo of three ‘Trail-layers’, each with a satchel under his left arm, dropping a trail of shredded paper for a NEHA cross-country course. I knew of this system, but it had stopped by the mid-sixties, when I first ran cross-country. Did all the runners get lost if it was windy?

However Dad definitely ran well for Gordonians in Summer 1934. I remember that he said he used to train sparingly, since athletes at the time were afraid of becoming ‘stale’. A 1933 EE article on diet emphasises that ‘over-feeding and rushing of meals will bring on staleness quicker than anything else’. Oatmeal porridge is recommended, as well as fish, milk, eggs, roly-poly pudding. Vegetables are deemed necessary at dinner, but only a few potatoes. In the morning, the kidneys will be cleared if one drinks a glass of water. Cakes and sweetmeats are regarded with suspicion. An occasional dose of treacle is considered a good laxative. Simple foods and not overloading the stomach should pave the way for future success!

On the Wednesday the 4th of July 1934, the EE reports that there was an athletic meeting at Seafield (Gordon’s College’s old sports grounds, where in 1965 I finished a very long way ahead in the one mile race on a grass track during the local derby Aberdeen Grammar School versus GC match.) Dad however, representing Gordonians, finished half a yard down on Alex Milne of the YMCA, who won in 4 minutes 50 and four-fifth seconds, with George Milne third. Maybe they talked Dad into changing clubs that autumn! Dad is also named in the winning medley relay team (probably running 880 yards) when Gordonians beat Aberdeen YMCA Harriers. This was also the overall result in the match. Very probably it was Dad’s form this summer which won him his Gordonian Blue, and enabled him to buy his scarf and the blazer which he wore so proudly.

On Friday 27th July 1934 there was a match at Hazlehead: AU Hares and Hounds vs YMCA vs Gordonians. On this occasion, Dad finished third in the two miles race, behind one Varsity runner and one Shire man. There was a team race, so he certainly would not have been last! The winning time was 10 minutes 19 seconds. Gordonians had one extremely good sprinter and some field athletes, but Dad seems to have been their best distance man. Incongruously, right next to the P&J athletics report is a very large advert for cigarettes with the slogan ‘Have a Capstan!’

On the 4th of August 1934, adjacent to a list of results from the Empire Games is an equally detailed list of results from the Pittodrie Sports! Dad finished third in the one mile behind a couple of successful local runners: C. McPherson and A. Watt (both Shire). It must have been a thrill to race against the best local men (and some from Dundee) in front of a crowd of 5000 on the Dons’ hallowed ground.

It was announced in the EE in late October 1934 that “The Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers have now everything in apple pie order for the coming season. Although the active membership is 21, there are still a few vacancies for lads who wish to take up the harrier game.”    Who could resist the call? Not Dad!

Then, Eureka! A report of the race in which Dad won his NEHA medal! The P & J on Monday 19th November, 1934, described a race which happened on Saturday 17th. Below is a summary.


In the North Eastern Harriers Junior 3 miles 6-man team championship, held at the Links, Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers achieved individual and team victories.” There follows an account of the first two miles, led by various nonentities. Then! “In the last mile, the favourite, James A.Youngson, went to the front but could not shake off the Milne twins, who were running in a loose and easy style. These three club-mates had a desperate fight, until the final sprint. Alex Milne won by inches from James A. Youngson, with George Milne a yard behind.

                                    1 Alex Milne YM 16.45 and one fifth of a second;   2 James A. Youngson YM;   3 George Milne YM.

Team placing:  1 YMCA (1, 2, 3, 7, 10, 11 = 34 points’;   2 Aberdeenshire Harriers;   3 Aberdeen University”

(Outsprinted in a close race! This explains my genetic inability to win in a sprint, then.)

            The EE on the following Saturday 24th November 1934 comments further, in a weekly column by “Roadside” who deals with cycling, running, race walking and track athletics.

                                     “PROMISING ‘Y.M.’ RUNNERS

Last Saturday’s three-mile junior team race at the Links resulted in another YMCA triumph. Alex Milne, James A. Youngson, and George Milne filled the first three places and the club also won the team event by a comfortable margin.

The ‘Y.M.’ also had the first three men in the two-mile novice championships at Pittodrie Park in October. This would seem to indicate that they have, at present, the best set of youngsters in the city.

To get back to the three-mile junior race. The event was held under ideal conditions and, although the time does not stand comparison with former years, it must be kept in mind that formerly the course was shorter. The lap has now been carefully measured, and it is 854 yards which gives a course of six laps plus 156 yards. The previous course never exceeded 5 and three-quarters laps. The running of the race on the left-hand turn, and the shifting of the finishing line was, I think, quite a successful innovation.

Next step was to try to find an account of the novice two-mile race, round the cinder track the outside of the football pitch before the Dons home match versus St Mirren on October 13th, 1934. If Dad had ended up favourite for the three-mile event, surely he must have won the earlier race? But no, he didn’t even run, although the Milne twins did, so Dad must have won a novice race previously, just possibly while representing Gordonians during 1933-34, and subsequently had been upgraded to ‘junior’ athlete status. A ‘novice’ before the war was someone who had never won a race in open competition.

On Saturday 24th November 1934, there was a 20-mile relay race from Invercannie Waterworks near Banchory (starting on the 20th milestone on the N. Deeside Road) to Aberdeen. Although the Milne twins ran for the YM Harriers, who finished second, Dad was not named in their team that year.

In December 1934, Dad was mentioned in the EE as liable to figure prominently in the forthcoming YMCA Harriers 5 mile club championship over the Torry course. This was “likely to result in a duel between James Youngson, James Thow and the twin brothers – Alex and George Milne”. The route was from the foot of Menzies Road, past Craiginches to the top of Nigg Brae, where the runners took the turning that led to Bridge of Dee, before crossing the bridge and racing down Riverside Road, to finish near Victoria Bridge. However Dad did not take part. Arthur Lobban won, followed by Alex and George. In Dad’s 1981 interview he said that he had some success before the war in local one mile and two mile events. In addition, he definitely ran well over three miles; but perhaps five miles was too far, considering how little he trained. Maybe, by contrast, the Milnes gained superior stamina because they banged in the miles by training together all the time – tantamount to cheating!

There is no mention of Dad in early1935, until the last race of the season, on Saturday 16th February 1935. The EE article states the following.


Six Teams to Compete in Stiff Test

The fifth annual three-mile race for the Caledonian Cup, on road, country and then road, will be held under the auspices of the North Eastern Harriers Association, today at 3 p.m. It is the N.E.H.A. 3 Miles Junior Cross-Country Championships.

The competition is open to all amateur clubs within the area. Teams are of twelve runners each, of whom the first six men home count for places.

Teams are forward from  ‘Varsity, Shire, Aberdeen YMCA, Gordon Highlanders (2 teams) and Elgin YMCA Harriers.

The course is from South Esplanade West (in Torry), past Craiginches to Harpers’ Works, striking off to the left to take the fields over to the road leading under the railway. Runners then take the country again to come on to the road at the railway cabin, and thence back to the finishing point in South Esplanade West again.

Stripping accommodation is at the Dee Swimming Clubhouse, near Victoria Bridge, but ‘Varsity and ‘Shire will strip in the ‘Shire hut at Suspension Bridge.

Trail layers are asked to report at Dee Hut, at 2.15 p.m.”

There follows a full list of entrants, oddly not including Lobban and the Milnes.

Next Monday’s P&J has the results!

Y.M.C.A. Man First Home in Harriers’ Event


“Varsity won the N.E. Harriers’ Association three-mile junior team championship which was decided over a course at Torry on Saturday afternoon.

A field of sixty runners took part. From the start, A.R. Hewitt and N.R. McLean (‘Varsity) forced a stiff pace, with J.A. Youngson (YMCA) five yards in the rear. Taking the country, McLean went to the front, with Hewitt and Youngson at his heels.

Midway over the country the three leaders were having a tousy duel, the Elgin team being well bunched together for the team award. Coming on to the road again, McLean was clinging to three-yard lead, from Youngson and Hewitt, with H. McDougall (‘Varsity), J. Riddell (Elgin) and W. Grant (‘Shire) ten yards behind.

In the last 200 yards Youngson came away with a terrific burst of speed to pass McLean and carry on to win his first individual honour by twenty yards in the good time of 16 minutes 35 and a fifth seconds.

An exciting duel took place between McLean and Grant for second place, the former just getting the verdict by inches at the tape.”

Well! Where did that sprinting power come from? Perhaps this was Dad’s greatest-ever victory. Presumably, having won a ‘junior’ race, he would now be classed as a senior athlete!

The following Saturday’s EE ‘Roadside’ column emphasises how well Elgin YM had done, to come second to Varsity in the team race. Then he writes “The individual winner was J.A. Youngson of Aberdeen Y.M.C.A., who returned the second-fastest time for a winner of this race. The cup and individual medals were presented to the successful competitors by Mr Alexander Silver.”

Evidence of Elgin YMCA Harriers Club’s rise to prominence came in their promotion of an amateur athletics meeting on Wednesday 19th June 1935. This was the first meeting held since the inauguration of the club, and took place at Boroughbriggs Park, Elgin (where I raced a North District cross-country league race at the age of 62 in 2010!) In the previous Saturday’s EE, ‘Roadside’ mentioned that “The ‘stars’ to appear in the one and two miles handicap races are W Fraser (AU), L Davidson (‘Shire) and J.A. Youngson (Y.M.C.A.).” Then the P&J on Thursday 20th reported that the Two miles race (handicap) was won by local runner J. Riddell in 9 mins 41 and three-fifths seconds, from J.A. Youngson (Aberdeen YM) and A. Murray (Elgin).



In November 1935, Dad was selected to compete in a legendary Aberdeen team race.. Alex Wilson,  supplied me with the following report in ‘The Scotsman’:


The North-Eastern Harriers’ Association held their 20-mile Round-The-Town Relay race at Aberdeen on Saturday 30th November 1935. Five teams of six-a-side participated in the event, which was won by Aberdeenshire in the excellent time of 1 hour 44 mins 17 secs.


  1. Lobban (University ‘A’) led J. Youngson (Y.M.C.A.) by ten yards at the first lap, covering the distance in 12 mins, 12 secs. In the second lap, D. Annand (University) and A. Milne (Y.M.C.A.) ran abreast until 100 yards from the finish, when Annand pulled away to lead by 10 yards at the take-over. In the third lap, G. Milne (Y.M.C.A.) finished 100 yards ahead of L. Murray (Aberdeenshire) , and in the fourth, fifth, and final stages C. McPherson, W. Grant and F. Yeoman, of the Aberdeenshire team, secured the lead respectively. Results were:

                                    1 Aberdeenshire Harriers;   2 ‘Y.M.C.A.’;   3 University ‘A’;    4 University ‘B’;   5 Caledonian Harriers.” 

Hunter Watson supplied more information. The YM Harriers had not long been formed (possibly in 1933); and Dad would have worn a royal blue vest with a red and yellow triangular badge.

The P&J listed all the numbers of all the competitors in the five participating teams; and stated that the Shire Harriers had a winning margin over Dad’s team of only a hundred yards, with the University a further 400 yards behind. In addition there is a blurred picture of the five first lap runners, who were (left to right): “A.J. Youngson (initials wrong way round) (Y.M.C.A.); E. Wood (Caledonian); A. Lobban (Varsity A; A. Hewet (Varsity B); and A. Watt (Shire)”. Dad is indeed wearing a dark vest with triangular badge and white shorts and white shoes, and looks very young (22), with short dark hair and skinny legs. What a pity the microfilm spoiled the clarity of the photo.

The man who outsprinted Dad – ‘G. Lobban’ of the University, does not exist in the programme. This refers to A.W.C.  Lobban, who was listed as Varsity B but must have run for the A team. There is also an A. Lobban (Arthur, later the club secretary) in the YMCA team. I assume these were two different athletes (both good runners).

1935 was the very first ‘Round-The-Town Relay Race’. Six stages made up a total of around 19 miles. The First lap (2 and a half miles) started at the end of University Road, and went along King Street, up School Road and St Machar Drive to Great Northern Road and along to the end of Anderson Drive to the first take-over. (Dad must have been okay on uphills.) His 1935 time for the First lap was faster than the stage winners in 1936, 1937 and 1938. YMCA won the last two events. The Relay will have stopped after that, due to the start of the Second World War.)

Second lap (4 miles) – over Anderson Drive to the Bridge of Dee. Third lap (3 and a half miles) – Over Bridge of Dee and Abbotswell Road to Balnagask Road, out to the terminus at the end of Victoria Road, and in to the end of Menzies Road. Fourth lap (5 miles) – Out Menzies Road to Kirk o’ Nigg, down Abbotswell Road and over Bridge of Dee to Victoria Bridge. Fifth lap (1 and three-quarters miles) – Along the Quay to the end of Market Street and down to the end of Church Street, thence to the Promenade and to ‘the Dance Hall’. Sixth lap (2 and three-quarters miles) – Along the Promenade to the Bridge of Don and in King Street to the end of University Road, where the race finished.

And that is almost the last mention of Dad’s early running I have found. Certainly he did not run longer cross-country fixtures (over five or seven miles) in January  and February 1936; and did not defend his Caledonian Cup title, probably because, having won a ‘Junior’ event, he was no longer eligible. Furthermore, there is no mention of J.A.Y. in the summer 1936 Amateur track season. Was that when he was running under a pseudonym in Professional Highland Games like Aboyne, Ballater and Aboyne – when the famous steak knives (which I keep now) were won? If only I had asked what name he ran under!

However, one more newspaper cutting (from the Dundee Evening Telegraph) has been found. On 23rd July 1936, Dad came third in a handicap 2 Miles in the Arbroath FC Supporters Club Sports, at Gayfield, Arbroath. There was a crowd of 5000.  The winner was A. Hay (Dundee Thistle – off 120 yards) in 9 minutes 34 and a fifth of a second. In second place was John Suttie Smith (Dundee Hawkhill – off 80 yards) and third J. A. Youngson (Aberdeen YMCA). Hay was a very good runner who competed for Garscube Harriers (a Glasgow club) during WW2. Suttie Smith had been an outstanding Scottish Cross-Country International; and Scottish Champion five years in succession between 1928 (when he was a brilliant second in the International XC at Ayr Racecourse) and 1932. For Dad to race against such a legend must have been thrilling. In fact, I do remember him mentioning Suttie Smith – although at the time his name meant nothing to me. Yet JSS, for the last time (from 10 consecutive appearances) had run for Scotland in the 1936 International XC at Blackpool – so he must still have been a very fit Senior athlete when he overtook Dad!  

Dad was a man who took up new hobbies with great enthusiasm; and many of these did not last long. Perhaps he felt he had run as well as he could over one to three miles and did not want to devote more time to training. Perhaps he was sick of being outgunned by the Milne twins, who continued to do well right up to World War Two. Maybe Dad was working long hours and preferred to use his leisure time for cycling or walking. In any case, this ‘restless character’ was in no danger of getting fat or unfit!

 I have Dad’s diary for 1944, at the age of 30, when he was stationed in North Africa not far from Cairo and when his handwriting was less illegible. He was playing quite a bit of football; and then on 23rd April, there is the following entry: “Did my first training run round the perimeter wire. I felt fine.” Next day: “Another training spell. My legs felt quite stiff so must carry on every day until they are looser.” He runs every day; it takes about 8 minutes for each circuit. 28th April: “I don’t feel so good, have strained the old chest muscles over my heart.” He rests and then on the 1st of May: “Hurrah! Got up feeling much better but pain still there so no training now. I am sorry, but I will go too hard at it in training.” On the 3rd: I have gone to the sick officer to find my pain is simply muscles and my heart is fine.”

On the 5th of May: “Am longing to start training again but pain is still there.” Three days later: “Started training again doing exercises and four times round the square. Pain over heart not as bad now.” 9th May: “Do some light exercises. Will I be fit for Sports Day, I wonder.” Next day: “Exercises and a few laps. Doug Stone and Derek Payne came training with me which was a nice change.” By the 20th: “More training with short bursts of speed and finished with a quarter mile and beat Derek easily but felt very tired afterwards.” Two days later: “Tired after hard swim in salt water and felt stiff. Doesn’t agree with running.”

On the 24th of May: “Felt low all day. Did four laps. Thoroughly enjoyed it.” (I think that says a lot for the therapeutic effect of exercise on Dad’s mood; and that was almost thirty years before he added constant prayer to his regime.) The day after: “Race day but left it alone. One of the boys is supposed to have done the mile in 5 mins. Very good going. I doubt if I could beat 5.30. However enjoyed the training.” (Note the characteristic Youngson lack of confidence before races.) 26th of May: “This is my last day of training. Did a fast half mile with Derek Payne. Felt fine and looking forward to Sports Day. This sort of life suits me. I don’t have much time to think.” Then after two days rest, on the 29th of May: “Well, the Sports Day. As usual was very nervous. 2nd in half mile to Jock David, in 2.12 and two-fifths secs; 2nd in the mile in 5mins 2 and a half secs. So what, I lost to better men but I’m not so young as I was (i.e. not quite 31). Very, very tired. Bed is the best place and the best friend.” Thereafter he gave up running and took up regular badminton! He also enjoyed reading ‘Cycling’ magazine. That September he was sent to hospital by the R.A.F. unit psychiatrist because of serious stress at work (no mention of malaria, but he may have suffered that as well during this period). Two months later he felt fit, but with weak legs; and by the end of 1944 he was sailing past Gibraltar en route for Britain at long last. He may have competed again in 1945; or he may have waited until 1977 to start running once more!

After marrying Flora in 1945 (from his diaries it is clear how happy they were with each other) he seems to have restricted his exercise routine to cycling to and from work. However by 1948, apart from hurling me about in the infamous bicycle side-car (sometimes to watch the Sunday morning finish of 25 or 50 mile cycle races, while Mum went to church), he had a number of weekend and holiday bike rides down to Mum’s relatives in Dunblane and district; up Deeside or through Banff and Buchan and over the Highlands. Then in 1949, having built a new bike (a Raleigh Record Ace) he got me a special seat and put in a lot of road miles. On one holiday in July 1949 he went off on his own to Lochinver and on 24th July stayed at Achmelvich Hostel (on the hilly route I did with Innis this summer). Mum did a little bit of cycling too!

For 1950 he kept a cycling mileage total: 2790 and a half! The most serious holiday trip in July took him to Fraserburgh; then Inverness, Ullapool, Achmelvich. Lairg, Tongue, Castletown, John o’Groats, Wick, Carbisdale Castle Hostel, Bonar Bridge, Strathpeffer, Inverness, Aviemore, Braemar, and home. Although he did use one local train and one bus, he cycled 441 miles in a week, with two days over 100 miles!

Dad’s Youth Hostel card makes fascinating reading. Between 1951 and 1954, as well as ‘local’ stays at Feughside, Ballater and Braemar, he stayed at places as various as Crianlarich, Penrith, Truro, Land’s End, and Dublin.

One of Dad’s two major foreign trips was either in 1952 or 1956 (unfortunately I do not have those diaries) when he spent a hectic fortnight probably touring Germany and what used to be called the Benelux countries – I have his battered map but no indication about the route, which would have been supplied by the Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC). Certainly in July 1954, when he was newly 41 years old, his hostel card and map both indicate a vast tour of Scandinavia. He must have gone south by train before taking a boat from Newcastle to Esbjerg in Denmark. Then he cycled east to Kolding, Odense and Copenhagen before boarding the little ferry from Helsinborg (Elsinore) across to Sweden. He stayed at Orkellunga Youth Hostel and then turned north to Jonkoping and Karlskoga (quite close to Orebro, where Stella and I worked in 1973). After that, it was west to Karlstadt, into Norway and probably on to Oslo. Then he stayed in Eidfjord and Bergen, where he boarded the boat back to Newcastle. I can only speculate on the enormous number of kilometres covered! As late as 1959, as well as leaving me puffing behind on Mum’s lady’s black bike en route to Feughside (19 miles) or Auchmithie (Arbroath – 53 miles!), he was off touring Wales. Later destinations included Broadmeadows in the Borders, Winchester, Cumbria and Once Brewed (a hamlet on Hadrian’s Wall).


Tell me, do YOU ever take any exercise?!



The 1989 Solo JOGLE

Don 2B 84

Donald in the 1984 Two Bridges

The seed of the ambition to run from the most Northerly point on the island of Great Britain, John O’Groats, to the Southern extremity, Land’s End, was sown in my mind many years ago. On long Sunday runs in the late 60’s with Alistair Wood and Steve Taylor, we used to periodically discuss the possibility of an “end to end” relay run. Enthusiasm for the relay grew, and in April 1972 I was part of the eight man Aberdeen A.A.C. team which completed the John O’Groats to Land’s End (J.O.G.L.E.) run, estimated at 867 miles, in 80 hours, 25 minutes, some 45 minutes outside the record set by Reading A.C. in1967. Using the experience gained, Aberdeen A.A.C. improved on Reading’s record by 23 minutes, the following April, but I was not able to participate in this “adventure”. The idea lived on, and in April 1982 I was part of a very strong Aberdeen A.A.C. team, which reduced the record to: 77 hours, 26 minutes and 18 seconds.

    Since then the idea of a solo run grew steadily stronger, until in June 1986, I decided to plan an attempt during our two-week Easter Holidays from School and College in 1987. Both of my parents had died of cancer: my father in 1985, and my mother in 1986, so the time seemed right to attempt the run, and raise funds for cancer research, through sponsorship. After months of planning, my attempt began at 7.00am on the 5th April at Land’s End. I had decided to start there, to make use of the prevailing wind, which in April is from the West, and the “homing pigeon” effect. My support team consisted of: Graham Milne, co-ordinator for the run, Peter Chalmers, in charge of navigation, Mike Francis, who looked after my requirements on the road, and Malcolm Morgan, (magic Morgan), the head physiotherapist from Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin.

  I set a schedule for ten days, and my strategy was to run for one hour, and then walk for five minutes, before running another hour, continuing in this fashion until 1.00pm, when I would take a break of one hour. The afternoon and early evening would be similar. On the first day I finished in the town of Lifton, having covered 83 miles in 12 hours, 44 minutes of running and walking.

  Next morning I set off in pouring rain which was miserable. Mike and I got lost in Taunton, which wasted time and energy. I ended the day in Bridgwater, having covered 80 miles, plus 1 mile in the wrong direction. Day three started well; the sun was shining, the road was flat for about 16 miles, and I felt quite good. However many miles later in the early evening between Monmouth and Hereford my attempt floundered. I was running down a steep hill before St. Weonards when suddenly a severe pain developed in my lower left leg, making further running impossible. Treatment from Malcolm that evening proved ineffective. Next day was a miserable experience; walking, or rather, limping along at less than 4 miles per hour. At Hope under Dinmore, which I reached in the late afternoon I abandoned the attempt, after consultation with Malcolm, who could see no chance of the injury improving. Later the injury was diagnosed as a stress fracture in tibia.

  I made a complete recovery from this, and wanted to try the J.O.G.L.E. run again. However, before committing myself, I wanted to give my leg a good test, so I accepted the invitation to run in the Cagliari to Sassari race of 254Km in Sardinia, on 17th October. I completed the run in 25hr 28min 51s, with no leg problems, apart from the normal one of not being able to move them quickly enough.

  Having passed this test I decided to make a second attempt, starting on the 11th of July from Land’s End. Everything was set up for the attempt, so it was a bitter blow to all involved when the attempt had to be postponed on the of 19th June. On this day, soon after the start of a 100Km race in Lincoln, I collided with another runner and fell very badly, onto the pavement. I fractured my left patella, and had to endure the next three and a half weeks with my left leg in plaster, from groin to ankle. Following the plaster removal, after daily physiotherapy and muscle strengthening exercises, I regained full bending movement in my knee, but my leg looked rather like a stork’s. I was able to start jogging on 7th August, and progressed to full training by 12th September. I wanted to test my knee to see if I could contemplate another J.O.G.L.E. run the following Easter. I ran the Black Isle marathon on 29th September in 2-34-56 with no ill effects, except increased discomfort and ache in my knee for a few hours after the race. Then on 19/20th November I ran in the indoor (200m track) 24hr race in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, and managed 144miles 1009yds. My knee was no problem during the run, but did swell with fluid for a few days after.

  I decided that I was sound enough to plan another attempt for 1989, again in our two-week Easter Holidays from School and College; this time I planned to go from John O’Groats. My reasoning was; it is much easier to get to John O’Groats from Lossiemouth, my home, and in the event of my knee giving out, which I thought might happen after three days if at all, it would not be so far to get home. There was, however, more likelihood of head winds going this way. I set up the attempt to begin on the first of April at 12noon (no longer an April fool), which was the first day of our two weeks Easter holiday from School and College. My support team consisted of: Isobel, my wife, Donald Gunn and Mike Francis, both team mates from Forres Harriers, George Stewart, plus Claire and Anna, our family. Isobel assisted by George was to tow our caravan, provide meals, wash kit, and make a video record of parts of the run when she got a chance. Mike took responsibility for route finding and keeping the logbook, while Donald was to administer massage after each running session. They would also both collect names and addresses for the witness book, as required by the Guinness Book of Records, should I break the record, as planned.

 As on my previous attempt I decided to use my run to raise funds for the Cancer Research Campaign. Sponsor forms were distributed to Lossiemouth High School by; Izzy, to Moray College by me and others given to family and running pals to elicit donations.

 On my first attempt two years earlier the ‘confirmed’ record for the end-to-end was 12 days 1 hour and 59 minutes, by Ken Craig, a Scot living in South Africa, who ran between 29th August and 10th September 1984. Fred Hicks had claimed to complete the run of 876 miles between the 20th and 30th of May, 1977 in 10 days 3 hours and 30 minutes. The Guinness Book of records included his claim before introducing requirements for documentary evidence: log book and record of ‘sightings’. Since then the record for the run had been improved on two occasions. On the 28th of June 1988, Al Howie from Saltcoats in Ayrshire, but who lived in Victoria, Canada, completed his run from John O’Groats to Lands End in 11 days, 3 hours and 18 minutes. This improved the existing record by 22 hours and 41 minutes. In a letter to Albert Middleton, the manager of the Co-op in Buckie, who had given Al food for his run, he said ‘Beside the running the main problems were the traffic and the ever changing weather’. Richard Brown, although primarily a race walker, had used a combination of race walking and running to reduce the record time to; 10 days 18 hours and 23 minutes, so this was the time that I had to attempt to beat.

 One of Isobel’s pupils, Julie Walker, was eager to help with fund raising and through her enthusiasm, her father, Stuart Walker, who operated a taxi service in Lossiemouth, agreed to be the ‘link’ person. I arranged that at the end of each day’s run, either Mick or Donald would telephone Stuart with information on my current progress. Stuart would then pass this information to appropriate contacts when they telephoned for ‘latest information’

  On Friday the 31st of March, after work we set off for Golspie, where we were to stay at Donald’s parent’s holiday cottage. Mike and Donald drove a minibus, supplied by our main sponsor, “The Macallan” whisky distillers. I had all the seating removed except that for the driver and passenger, so that it could easily carry all our provisions, kit and a bicycle, and also so that I could lie out in it for massage.

  Overnight Mike developed severe toothache, so he and Donald set out early to try to find a dentist in Wick, while we made our way to John O’Groats some time later. My plan was to ease into the run by starting with a half day, and would run to Brora. At John O’Groats it was bitterly cold, and a strong South East wind blowing, so a wet suit, hat and gloves were necessary. Mike and Donald arrived about 30 minutes before noon, having found a dentist in Wick, who fixed Mike’s tooth for free as his contribution to our run, which by was known as “Ritchie’s Run 89”.

  Nine friends and supporters turned up before the start, to wish me luck and see me off, which I greatly appreciated. I planned to start to start exactly on the 12 noon time signal from a B.B.C. radio station, but I selected the wrong station on the car radio in the excitement, and there was no time signal, so my actual departure time was 12.02.

  I set off to cheer and was soon alone, tackling the first of many hills, running into a strong head wind in this very exposed region, and I wondered what the next ten days would bring. To try to minimise stress, and hopefully avoid injury I had decided that I would not run for more than three hours in a session, and that I would have at least 30 minutes break between sessions. I intended to run 3 times 3 hour sessions, followed by 2 times 2 hour sessions, plus whatever else was necessary to complete the target mileage if it was practical. During the 30minute rest I would change kit, and shoes if necessary, take food and drink, and receive a massage and stretching routine from Donald. Malcolm Morgan had demonstrated the techniques on me a few weeks before, while Donald and Mike observed, and Isobel made a video recording for reference. To gain skill, we think that Donald practiced massaging his girlfriend’s legs.

  After I had covered about three miles, Donald and Mike began running alternate miles with me, to try giving me some protection from the wind, on the exposed road to Reiss. Soon Wick was reached, and we passed through with some encouragement from local people. I stopped at Thrumster for my first rest period, which passed quite slowly, but I was sure that this would not be the case later in the run. I continued down the undulating A9 road, which afforded some spectacular views of cliffs, sea and mountains. At the Berriedale Braes I was very cautious of the steep descent, fearful that excessive jarring might provoke another stress fracture, so I walked down the steepest part, a practice I would continue on all future steep downhills. The climb from Berriedale was O.K., and there were several other stiff climbs, before the descent to Helmsdale at sea level again. From there the road is almost flat, and I could see the lights of Brora, eleven miles away. This section appeared to take a long time to complete; it was quite annoying seeing the lights, which did not appear to be getting any closer. I finished in Brora at 10.45pm, having covered 65 miles.

  I had difficulty sleeping that night, and was feverish. In the morning I was choked up with a cold; the cold, which had been threatening over the past week, had developed into a class one cold. After breakfast we returned to Brora, and I began running from last nights stop at 6.10a.m. The wind was not a problem until the high exposed ground from the south end of Loch Buidhe to Bonar Bridge. Going over the Struie hill was very hard as the wind was so strong at times that I had difficulty staying on my feet. I was glad when the descent to the Cromarty Firth began, as there were trees either side of the road, offering some protection.

  Shortly before crossing the bridge over the river Averon, a sharp pain on the front of my left patella developed, and I worried that this might signal the start of problems with this knee. However, applying some freeze spray eased it considerably, and eventually it faded away and I forgot about it.  Raymond Cameron and members of the Minolta Black Isle A.C. joined me a couple of miles before I rejoined the A9, and ran with me in relays from there to the Kessock Bridge at Inverness. It cheered me up to have this enthusiastic support, and they also helped to shield me from the wind. At Kessock Bridge, Colin Bailey had arranged a group of veteran Inverness Harriers, to run with me from the bridge to within a few miles of Slochd summit. Again they were a big help against the wind, and in lifting my morale. It became colder, and by Slochd summit there were flurries of sleet. I was tired and anxious to see the turn off for Carrbridge, where I was to stop. I reached there at 10.05p.m, having covered 84.7 miles, and feeling very tired. It had been a hard day with the wind and hills.

 Donald drove us to the Caravan Park in Aviemore, where we were to spend the night and we all appreciated the hot showers. Next morning was frosty as I set off from Carrbridge at 6.05 a.m. I felt comfortable, and it was peaceful running along the B9125 road rather than the A9; I would have plenty of it and its traffic later in the day. The day developed into a pleasant morning, with no wind, and the sun was out, which was quite encouraging. My first three hours took me to Kingussie, only 19.5 miles, but I had come to accept this as the norm if I am to avoid injury, and complete the task. After Newtonmore I rejoined the A9, and after about 4 miles, I had company from Graham Milne, who had driven up from his parent’s home in Pitlochry. It was good to have his company to my next stop at Drumochter pass. By now Isobel had arrived, and the hot soup she offered was very welcome. Peter Scott a club mate of Graham’s, who was involved in the planning of the previous attempt, also arrived. He and Graham became my support team until Pitlochry, while Donald and Mike went ahead to Graham’s parents for a meal and some much needed sleep. Peter ran with me on my next three-hour session, and then Graham took over again until we reached Pitlochry, where a refreshed Mike and Donald resumed their task.

  About one mile after rejoining the A9, after the Pitlochry section, I could see a figure running towards me, and on getting closer I recognised that unmistakable running style; it was Ian Moncur. I knew he was pleased to see me, as he began jumping up and down, waving his arms in the air and shouting at the top of his voice, “where the hell have you been?”. I had asked Ian prior to the run if he would like to run a section, and he readily agreed, so earlier in the day I had asked Graham to telephone him to let him know my location, so that he could plan a meeting. Unfortunately Graham gave him a very optimistic estimate of my arrival time at Ballinluig, so he had expected to meet us some three hours earlier. Ian ran with me for two hours, down to Dunkeld turn off, by which time it was quite late. I left the A9 soon after to go to Bankfoot, where we finished at 11 pm, with a total of 81.8 miles for the day. In view of this late finish, Mike suggested, what I had also been considering; that I start one hour earlier in the mornings.

  There were no hot showers at our night stop, at Scone Palace Caravan Park near Perth, so we did without. Next morning I began running at 5.12am, and only covered 17.5 miles in the first session to Glenfarg. I was coping with the run, but getting weaker daily, and certainly not adapting to it, as some people suggested would happen. My cold had progressed into bronchitis, which was rather worrying.

  Adrian Stott from Edinburgh joined me about five miles before my next stop at Hill of Beath. It cheered me up a lot to have his company. I developed a nose-bleed, the first of many, so I had to run along spattered in blood, and with a wad of toilet tissue in my nostril to stop the flow; just another nuisance. As we approached the Forth Road Bridge, snow began to fall, and there was a very strong East wind. Isobel passed us on the bridge, and so was able to video us coming off the other side. Adrian ran with me round the Edinburgh Bypass, which was very busy, and extremely nerve racking to run on, due to the fast and heavy traffic. We were both very relieved to get off and head for Penicuik. I observed at my next toilet stop, in some roadside cover, that as the day before, there was evidence of intestinal blood loss; something else to try and remedy. Adrian left us at Leadburn Inn, with best wishes for our “history in the making” event, and a flask of fresh tea plus a £5 donation from the Inn staff.

  More snow fell on my next session down to and through Peebles, where I missed the most direct route onto the B7062 road. With the drop in altitude the snow turned to sleet. Somewhere on the narrow road, as mike and I ran along in the light from the van behind us, the lights suddenly veered to the right. Mike and I turned to see what had happened and saw that the van was off the road on the right hand side. Donald had fallen asleep while driving at such a slow speed. Thankfully there was no ditch and we were able to get the van back onto the road. I finished by Traquair House at 10.26pm, having covered 80.6 miles. It was quite a long drive to the Caravan Park at Tushielaw Inn, made difficult due to the snow on the B709 road, as we followed it over the hills. Again there were no hot showers, and it was after midnight by the time we had finished our ‘evening’ meal.

  Later that morning, at 4.00am, we had to push the Macallan Van off the site, as the tyres were slipping on the slushy and muddy grass. I began running from last night’s stopping place at 5.16am, and soon faced a long climb over to the A708 junction, and then another climb, over to Tushielaw.  The roads had a covering of snow, and it was quite therapeutic running through this quiet countryside, apart from sheep, as dawn broke.

Mike and Donald took turns at driving and sleeping, so that they would be fresher later in the day. I followed the meandering B709 on to Eskdalemuir, then down into Langholm, and we left the hills behind us, as the flat country around the Solway Firth spread out before us. I crossed the English border in the late afternoon, which gave me a morale boost.

  Apart from my bronchitis, and intestinal blood loss, I was now beginning to get stomach pains, despite regular eating. I worried that I might be developing an ulcer. Also the inside of my mouth was very sensitive, almost raw, so it was an effort to eat; especially anything hot or with salt in it. I pondered possible courses of action to combat this problem. I had already given up quit dilute orange squash in favour of water, or tea or electrolyte drink after the second day. I noticed that my sore mouth was aggravated, by eating bread and jam, so I decided to eliminate sugar from my diet to see if this would help. I ate the dry wholemeal bread along with an electrolyte drink, and a banana every hour. Within a day of this regime my stomach pains vanished, and there was no longer evidence of intestinal bleeding. The inside of my mouth, however remained raw.

  I passed through Longtown and approached Carlisle along a very busy A7; it was the rush hour. I was very tired and I flopped into the van at my next stop at the North side of Carlisle. Following this rest stop, Donald guided me through Carlisle and onto the A6 road, which I followed as darkness fell. Mike accompanied me with a torch, to our finishing point at the Northern outskirts of Penrith, reached at 11.11 p.m. This gave me 81 miles for the day.

  Next morning I started at 5.11am, and felt comfortable on the run up to Shap fell. I did not like the steep descent after Shap summit, and I had to go very cautiously to avoid putting to much stress on my legs. Mike joined me as I approached Kendal to guide me through, before dashing off to buy another pair of shoes from Pete Bland’s shop. I was extremely tired by this time, and covered only 16.9 miles in this, my second session, which finished about two miles South of Kendal. During my massage in the rest period, I kept falling asleep and going straight into a dream. Donald did very well in his massaging sessions, but we soon used up all the massage oil, so Johnson’s baby oil was used, but this caused some hairs to get pulled out on the insides of both thighs, causing boils to occur there. These were another source of irritation. Next we tried “crisp-n-dry” cooking oil, which worked well, but it left a pungent sickly smell on any kit contaminated with it, and on the air bed used for massage, which was also Donald’s night bed.

  I put on lighter shoes to see if this would help matters, as I pushed on to Carnforth and Lancaster. I felt very weak, and wondered how much longer I could keep going. My concern grew so I decided that I would run less than was planned, so that I could finish earlier and get to bed earlier. I finished at 9.27pm in Preston town centre, having covered 72.4 miles.

  Next morning I got underway at 5.20am, and followed the A49 to Wigan and onto Warrington. I felt a bit fresher, but still managed only 17.3 miles in my first session. After Stretton I ran through some attractive countryside, and just after mid-day logged 500 miles. During the afternoon I had another nosebleed, and this became a regular occurrence until the end. Rather than stop I stuffed a pieces of toilet paper up my nostrils to stem the flow of blood. I finished the day at Wem at 9.25pm, with another 73.1 miles added to the total. My plan w, was to run at least 70 miles a day to the finish, instead of my planned 80 miles, as the latter was proving too stressful and might promote a breakdown.


My 5.02 am start the following morning was my earliest, but I felt tired, and covered just 16.7 miles in my first three hours session. It was frustrating to be going so slowly, but at least I was still running, and had no injuries. The owners of Lower Lacon Caravan Park at Wem, Shropshire, where we had stayed the previous night waived their charge as their contribution to our charity.

Going through Shrewsbury I passed by the Lion Hotel, where we had stayed in 1987 following the abandonment of my first attempt. I passed through some attractive countryside as I followed the A49 to Church Stretton and Ludlow.

  The weather became quite warm in the afternoon sunshine, and I was tempted to put on shorts, but I discovered that it was not quite warm enough on stopping. It was rather pleasant, running from Ludlow through Richards Castle and Luston to Leominster along the quiet B4361. Passing through Leominster I felt some twinges in my right calf, and I began to worry that this might be the start of an injury. After a few more occurrences, they did not reoccur, which was a relief. I passed Hope under Dinmore, where my previous attempt finished, and my thoughts returned to that miserable day two years ago, when I was very downcast. Hereford was reached at dusk, and then ran on and up the long climb to the A466 turn off. I finished at 11.07pm, North of St. Weonards, with a total of 73.6 miles, for the day.

  At 05.08 am next morning, I started quite aggressively, and gave thanks that I was still running, as I passed the spot where my stress fracture had happened two years previously. Monmouth was passed through, and my run down the Wye valley, early on this Sunday morning was pleasant. I reached the Severn Bridge at about 11am, and weather conditions were quite warm again. In Bristol, Mike and I navigated to the Clifton Suspension Bridge; only to discover that the road we were to have taken down to the riverside was closed. I decided to go over the bridge and go down on the other side, assuming that we could find a bridge at river level, and cross back to rejoin our route. This was a mistake, because, despite our city map, we got disorientated, in fact thoroughly lost, and wasted time going in the wrong direction. However, we asked directions from local people, and after clambering over a couple of fences, and a railway line we regained our route.

  By my next stop, on the climb out of Bristol, on the A38, I had only covered 12.2 miles in the last three hours session. During the next session, the road was very busy; I assumed that it was people returning to Bristol, after a Sunday afternoon outing. Mike’s sister, Hilary joined us after Bristol, and assisted Isobel locate our night’s Caravan Park, and get set up ready to receive us later. Once over the Mendip hills, the road became flat, just like the batteries of our torch. Rain began to fall, so I splashed along holding a torch, which was almost useless. Mike fetched the batteries from the rear light of the bicycle, but they soon faded also. Despite this I managed to avoid damaging myself, in any potholes in the roadside. I was aiming for Bridgwater, and eventually reached the outskirts, where I stopped for the day. It was 11.25pm, and I had covered 71.8 miles.

  Next morning I got going at 05.01 am, and made my way through Bridgwater and on to Taunton. In my first session I covered 17.4 miles, which was quit encouraging considering my poor condition. Tiverton was next, then a very hilly section across to Crediton. As I was still concerned about excessive leg stress, I choose to walk on steep downhill sections. I decided to try four three-hour sessions, rather than switch to two-hour sessions. On the next session I had a sharp pain on the left front side of my chest, which was aggravated by swinging my left arm, in my normal running action. I had to run along with my left arm folded against my chest to ease the pain. I thought that I must have pulled a muscle; due to all the coughing I had been doing over the past few days, because of my bronchitis. Then I wondered what a collapsed lung felt like. When I mentioned my new problem to Donald, who had arrived to accompany me over the remaining few miles to Oakhampton, he suggested that it was probably indigestion. I took this to mean, “stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with the run”. I reached Oakhampton at 8pm, in a very tired condition, with only 14.7 miles covered in the last three hours. I had a 66-minute rest before continuing with Mike and a rejuvenated torch, towards Lewdown where I finished at11.18pm, with 74.2 miles added to the total. I was now 88 miles from the finish, so the next day should be the final one.

  I began my last day at 05.18am, with a sense of excitement and apprehension. My chest pain of the previous day had gone, but I was concerned that something may go wrong even at this late stage of the run. After about an hour into the run a headwind began to blow, and rain followed. Amazingly quickly, the wind became a gale and the rain became torrential. I battled on against the elements, the gale increasing in ferocity, as I climbed onto Bodmin moor. In my first three-hour session I only covered 15.4 miles. On my next session I was concerned that some of the gusts of wind would blow me into the path of a truck, or some other vehicle, so I asked Donald to drive the van ahead of me, so that I could get some protection, and so maintain a straight course. By the Bodmin Bypass the rain had ceased, but the wind was still strong. This second session yielded only 15.3 miles, and an even poorer 15.00 miles were achieved on the next. I changed into lighter shoes for my fourth session, and felt that I was running better, and covered 16.6 miles. However on the next, a two-hour session, I only managed 9.7 miles, finishing at the St. Ivel factory at Hayle at 11.08pm. I began my final session at 11.47pm, knowing that I had to complete the remaining 16.2 miles in 6hr 38min, to break Richard Brown’s record. By now the wind had died, and it was a peaceful night with a clear sky, and a near full moon. On reaching Penzance, not thinking clearly, I took the Bypass road rather than go through the town, which turned out to be a mistake, as I appeared to complete a large semicircle, involving some nasty climbs. As I left the Bypass, a signpost indicated 9.5 miles to Lands End; at least I was almost there, but I was very tired and it seemed to take ages to reach Sennan, where I could smell the sea. As I ran towards the finish a floodlight came on, to allow the B.B.C. South West camera team to record the finish. I stumbled and almost fell on a speed control ramp in the road, and I was confused as Lands End was completely different from what it had been like two years earlier. There were new buildings, but I eventually found the hotel on the cliff top, and the “official” signpost, where I finished at 3.27am.

  At last it was over! I had finished the journey of 846.4 miles, on foot, in 10 days 15 hours and 25 minutes, a mere 2 hours, 56 minutes faster than Richard had achieved. I was very relieved to that we got through it, without any mishap to myself or my support crew and my family. After hugs all round, we opened the bottle of Champagne, given by Albert Middleton, and drank to our successful project. I was very grateful to Mike and Donald for their dedicated and uncomplaining attention throughout each long day and to Isobel for her unfailing support. They each contributed a great deal to the success of the run.

  Once the camera crew had signed our witness book we made our way to Lower Treave Caravan Park at Crows-an-wra. It was about 4.30 am before we got to bed; normally we would be preparing to start another day’s run at this time. I found it difficult to sleep, as had been the case throughout the run, and got up at 9.00am. It was wonderful, not to have to go and run!

  Later after making various telephone calls we returned to Lands End, to see in daylight the new developments, and to sign the “End to End” book. Mike and Donald set off for home in the afternoon, as Mike had to get a flight to Boston for the marathon; he had a unique preparation for it.

  Isobel and I and the girls stayed another night at Crows-an-wra; the girls enjoyed watching the tortoise in the site owners garden. While there, a stream of yellow liquid suddenly poured from my nose, as though someone had turned on a tap. Isobel on seeing this commented that it was my brains running out, which we both found appropriately funny, and we ended up with a ‘fit of the giggles’.

  It took us four days to get back to Lossiemouth, and we arrived home on Sunday the sixteenth of April in the early evening. I had then to prepare for my return to work next day. We were certainly not refreshed after our Easter vacation. My weight on Monday the seventeenth of April was 9 stone, 7 pounds, which is around 7 pounds below normal; so since I had been snacking almost continuously, during waking hours, since I finished, I estimate that my weight may have been down to 9 stones.

  The aftermath of the run was not what I expected; I was not injured, just very weak, and my health/immune system had broken down. Apart from the continuing bronchitis, I had swollen glands either side of my neck, and my pulse was always ten beats above normal. My G.P. prescribed antibiotics and they worked sufficiently well, for me to resume running on the first of May. I had difficulty sleeping, for about five weeks after finishing the run. I would be very restless, and keep thinking it was time to get up and get ready to run, or I would dream that I was running, and getting lost.

  Being an optimist I had entered for the Lochaber marathon on 23rd April, and the first British Athletics Federation and Road Runners Club 100Km championship, on the seventh of May, prior to my run, but I had to withdraw from both events. My poor health continued throughout the summer; each time I began to train hard, I picked up another infection. I had seven courses of antibiotics, plus two decongestant mixtures, before I began to get back to normal in early September. I felt stronger each week, from then, and I knew I had recovered when I ran 6-51-14 in the Santander 100Km, in Spain, in October.

  In association with my run, my many helpers and I raised £5666.85, for cancer research, of which £2900 went to the Moray branch of the Cancer Research Campaign and £2766.85 was donated to the Breast scanner appeal for Elgin. This made the run all the more satisfying. I have great respect for anyone who completes the ‘End to End’ journey on foot, as I know how difficult it is.


 There were several record attempts since 1989, and most petered out after three or four days. Richard Brown, whose record I had broken, sent me a card, saying ‘congratulations on your record, enjoy it until I get it back’. I thought that he was joking, but years later I realised that he was not.

On Saturday the thirteenth of May, Isobel and I drove overt to the A9 and met Richard Brown on the old A9 North of Kingussie. He was in excellent spirits and walking strongly and aiming to cover eighty miles a day by combining running and fast walking. I cycled with him until beyond Slochd Summit. There was quite a heavy snow shower on the section after Aviemore.

 His support team consisted of two camper vans, with the following crew in one: Doug Aitken, the organiser/route finder and driver, Cyril the cycling attendant and James the physiotherapist, an unemployed graduate, who also looked after the cooking and meals. In the other van there were: Don Thompson, Amos Seddon and another walker/cyclist.

 The two vans worked in 4-hour shifts and Richard had an attendant walker or cyclist with him at all times to carry drinks of ‘Leppin’ and provisions. The on-duty van continually leapfrog him from one lay-by to the next convenient grass verge, so that they were never more than half a mile away. In this way Richard could get food on request and any additional clothing required to cope with the changing weather. This is the arrangement that I would have adopted if I had access to funds that would permit it, but I am proud of our successful ‘shoe-string’ adventure.

 Richard was sleeping in his fresh kit and rising at 04:00 so that he could get out on the road by 04:15 and did not take a break until 12:00, when he would take 40 minutes or an hour for lunch. He then continued without a break until 23:30!

 During this to time he alternated race walking with running. While I was there he did a little jogging before his lunch break, but after that he only walked because he was worried about a knee problem. However his walking pace of 4.25 to 4.5 miles an hour was sufficient to meet his schedule. I expected that he would reduce my end-to-end record by several hours and should be close to ten days. There was some talk that Richard and his wife Sandra, who was also embarked on her own L.E.G.O.G received some financial assistance from the distributors of the film ‘Forest Gump’, but I forgot to ask Richard about this.

 Since my run in 1989 there had been some road improvements and one major advantage was that there was a bridge over the Dornoch Firth, which removed the need to climb over the ’Struie’ and the loop through Bonar Bridge.

  On the 15th of May 1995 Richard completed the journey from Lands End to John O’Groats (L.E.J.O.G.) in10 days 2 hours 25 minutes, to set the current record. I know that the record should be under ten days, but who will accomplish this? A strong ultra runner with the time, and adequate financial backing, plus an experienced support crew, would be a good bet. I am occasionally tempted to plan another attempt to get the record back, and finish under ten days. Perhaps the desire will reach such a level that I will have to do something about it. Time will tell.


Don Ritchie: RRC Interview

Don and Hughie

Don Ritchie RRC Interview

Don Ritchie finishing the E-G Point to Point

The following article and interview was given to Colin Youngson by Don Ritchie and we thank him for it.   It is a fascinating insight into the man and as it says, his book will surely have to be published.

Allister Hutton

M4 AH 1

Allister in the London Marathon, 1986

Allister is a quite exceptional all round endurance athlete with a top class record on the road, over the country and on the track.   He is the current Scottish marathon record holder with his time of 2:09:16 recorded in the London Marathon in 1985 when he was third behind Steve Jones and Charlie Spedding and he won the race in 1990 in 2:10:07.   He has never received the credit he deserved for either.   Prior to the victory he had finished third, third, sixth and thirteenth in his previous four attempts and yet the pundits, including Athletics Weekly didn’t mention him in their forecast.   Before we go on, I’d like to thank Graham MacIndoe for all the photographs used on this page.

There are a number of articles and appreciations here with the first being  by Colin Youngson who has written about the event on several occasions not least in the book which he co-wrote with Fraser Clyne called ‘A Hardy Breed’ which is a history of the Scottish Marathon Championship.

Allister Hutton was the finest all-round Scottish distance runner of his generation. Whereas his great rival Nat Muir was faster over 5000m and often defeated him at cross-country, Hutton was also successful at these events and his range extended to 10,000 metres and road running, especially the half-marathon and marathon distances. On his day, Allister Hutton was the best road runner in Britain.

His breakthrough was when, at the age of twenty, he won the Scottish Junior Cross Country title in 1975. More senior member of his club Edinburgh Southern Harriers could only be impressed by Allister’s typically relentless front running.

During the next year or two he took part in key training sessions two or three times a week with older runners from several Edinburgh clubs: around The Meadows on Monday nights (sixteen short efforts); the Colinton Circle on Wednesday nights (nine longer repetitions); and on Sunday mornings. The latter was considered the hardest session in Scotland: a long group run from The Meadows, along the canal, through Colinton Dell, out the old railway line to Balerno, back past the reservoirs to Bonaly Tower and eventually a final lap of The Meadows – 25 miles at an unfriendly pace, including hostile surges. International marathon runners forced the pace, but young Allister hung on impassively. Before long he had outpaced his former training companions and was only to be seen zooming along effortlessly, saying nothing but raising one (polite) finger in acknowledgement of other athletes.

Hutton’s training was totally dedicated, high-mileage (in fact 110-120 miles per week), and frighteningly fast. Edinburgh Southern won many important team races in the 1970s and 1980s, especially district and national championships on road and country. Although Allister could be an awkward character, calmly refusing to race unless it fitted into his plans, he was the major factor in his club’s success. For example, during the first three years of the National Six-Stage Road Relay, he took over on the final stage in second place, well behind a current international runner – the Clyde Valley opponent varied, as did the time gap – first thirty seconds, then a minute and finally one and a half minutes. On each occasion, Hutton’s perpetual motion, seemingly effortless style saw him reel in his rival before overtaking and bowling away to a gold medal and the congratulations of amazed clubmates and frustrated losers. No wonder the rest of the squad considered their finest performance to be when they won the 1977 Edinburgh to Glasgow Road Relay without Hutton! Allister himself remembers as highlights his team almost beating Brendan Foster’s Gateshead Harriers in the AAA 12-Stage Relay; and winning the Pye British Athletics Gold Cup.

M4 AH 2

The fastest long stage in the 1985 Six Stage Road Relay

 By the time he was twenty years old, many had suggested to Allister that he was destined to be a marathon runner, due not only to his dedication and toughness, but also his light frame and efficient, balanced, rhythmical style. Typically, Hutton ignored this advice. He was determined to explore his potential at shorter distances to the absolute limit. This he did, improving gradually year after year. At cross-country, he was National Senior Champion in 1978 and 1982; and he had a record ten appearances for Scotland in the IAAF World Championships. At 5000 metres, he recorded his best time, 13.41.45, at the age of 26. Four years earlier he had run 28.13.09 for 10,000 metres at a mere 22 years old; but it took almost another ten years before he finally broke a barrier to record 27.59.12. Thirteen of the top fifty Scottish 10,000 metres performances are his, and this demonstrates Allister’s courage in sticking with a track event reckoned to be gruelling and dispiriting but a true test of pace judgement and character. Of course these were the days before 10k/half marathon road races existed; and track 10ks were available in district, national and U.K. championships as well as the G.R.E. Cup.

Eventually, in 1980, Hutton took part in the U.K. Olympic Trial marathon, but was forced to drop out. In 1984, awesome runaway victories in the Morpeth to Newcastle and AAA Half Marathon convinced him to try again. In 1984 he managed 2.16.08 and a good second place to the famous Swede Kjell Erik Stahl in the Oslo Marathon. His training until now was basically for 10k – mainly speed endurance. After a second record-breaking Morpeth win, Alan Storey advised him to switch to two five-week cycles: the first of hard steady miles; and the second including three weekly interval sessions with short recoveries, plus a couple of serious two and a half hour runs. Reaching a peak, in April 1985 Allister Hutton finished third in the London Marathon. His time, 2.09.16, remains at the top of the Scottish All-Time List, and justified completely the years of Spartan concentration on maximising his speed and stamina before switching to the classic distance.

Allister Hutton’s seven best marathon times were all produced at London, apart from a rare foray to Chicago in 1985. He finished only 13 marathons, and almost prefers to remember racing for Britain on the track, taking part in three Commonwealth Games and a European Championship – and defeating World Champion John Treacy in the Gateshead cross-country. Yet arguably the finest performance of his career, a race which ensured his place in the memory of all who watched it on television, was in 1990 in London, when he had reached the ‘advanced’ age of 35. Allister almost missed the start, when the runners’ bus got lost! Then, when the pacemaker Nick Rose dropped out after Tower Bridge, Hutton was left alone in the lead. Assuming that this isolation was foolish, his rivals in the chasing group let him go. By twenty miles this gritty Scot had ground out a lead of at least seventy seconds. After that, the chase began in earnest, as English commentators forecast his doom. Seldom has a sports broadcast seemed so fascinating to Scottish viewers; seldom has time (and distance) taken so long to pass. Yet Allister showed no sign of distress: his style remained controlled and his face composed. However the long, long straight of The Mall seemed an eternity to him – both agony and ecstasy as he lived out the dream of leading such an important event in front of so many rivals and spectators. Eventually he crossed Westminster Bridge first, still twenty seconds ahead, in 2.10.10 – a really dramatic Scottish victory in the English heartland.

Jim Alder used to say that young runners needed to serve an apprenticeship – learning from coaches and older, faster clubmates. After some years of constant training, the ‘apprentices’ would mature and qualify as proper athletic tradesmen. Allister Hutton believes that today’s talented youngsters seldom endure such an education, which explains why his own best times remain superior. For years after sporting retirement, he was still to be seen striding out briskly around Edinburgh. However he refused to return to racing – and no one was likely to convince this quiet, steely individual otherwise.

M4 AH 3

In the London Marathon, 1985 (3rd right)

This second article is from the lamented ‘Scotland’s Runner’ Magazine and was printed after his victory in the London Marathon in 1990.


Scottish athletics administrators would be wrong to think that Allister Hutton’s bold front running  ADT London Marathon triumph has taken the edge off his belief that the country’s middle distance and marathon runners are getting a raw deal.    On the contrary the indications are that the 35 year old Edinburgh Southern Harrier will use his capital success to promote a rethink at the top.   Only a handful of SAAA officials escaped Hutton’s scathing comments as he told ‘Scotland’s Runner’ : “In all the years I’ve been in the sport I’ve always had more encouragement from my club than I’ve had from the governing body.”    And the glory of London took a back seat as Scotland’s new running hero used his own pre-Commonwealth Games experience to illustrate his frustration with officialdom.   Where, he wondered, was the common courtesy of a reply when he sent a letter indicating that he did not want to run in the marathon in Auckland.   “Surely it warranted some sort of response from the SAAA even if it was only to ask why the top man in the event did not want to compete in the event?”   said Hutton.   “But they didn’t even acknowledge my letter.”   On the question of whether he would have been interested in a place in the 10000 metres, Hutton said, “I did indicate that I did not have the qualifying standard for that distance.”    But hints, nods and blind horses come into the picture when he highlighted the fact that other countries are never reluctant to nominate an athlete for more than one event – with the choice being left to the individual.

“They knew the score,” claimed Hutton as a prelude to his view that the Commonwealth Games standards were way out of line with reality.   “A 28:20 for the 10000 was bordering on stupidity,” he added.   And he was equally scathing about the 2:13 guideline for a marathon place.   “England and Wales don’t demand that kind of standard” said the runner who is one of only five Scots to have returned a sub-2:13 marathon.   Only a handful of distance runners in the whole world could have matched up to the Scottish qualifying demands, he added.

“It would have been good for Scottish athletics and marathon running in general if we had been offered a reasonable standard, if common sense had prevailed at official level.”   The SAAA are simply not doing enough to encourage runners in the middle distances when you see Scotland miss out on a chance to be represented at the Commonwealth Games.   He added “I’m speaking as a runner who has come up through the ranks, from 5000 metres to the marathon, when I say that we have lost our way since the days of Ian McCafferty, Ian Stewart, Lachie Stewart and Jim Alder.   Surely it must be worrying to those in charge that we have witnessed a sharp decline in performance standards in recent years.”

Scotland’s unrealistic 2:13 guideline also came across when Hutton turned his attention to his automatic selection for Split later this year.     “The 2:15 requirement speaks for itself,” said the Edinburgh runner who is determined to reap the benefits of a long rest before turning his attention to Yugoslavia.   “There is always a danger of trying to get back too soon,” he said, “As of now, I’m going to take it day-to-day and week-to-week.   There is no set plan for the months ahead.”     Coach Alan Storey will be one of the first to know Hutton’s thinking on how he should approach the European championships.    “But everything is flexible,” emphasised the runner who admitted he will be side-stepping many of the requested personal appearances that will come his way in the wake of the London glory.   “People tend to forget how you react to running a marathon.   Mentally I’m on a high.   Physically, I’m run down and tired.   It’s a question of being given time to recover,” said the man whose marathon career began on a low note.   But the memories of how he quit after 15 miles of a 1980 race have been buried in the consistency he has shown in London (five times), Chicago (twice), Oslo and New York during the intervening ten years.

“London has been good for me,” said Hutton in what many will regard as an understatement in view of his 1985 personal best of  2:09:16 and the overdue 1990 triumph of 2:10:10 which ranks the Scot as the fastest Over-35 Briton of all time.

M4 AH 4

Training in Edinburgh, mid-80’s

In the actual race the top  men were wary of each other and ignored Allister as he sped off in front on a very wet and windy day.   His winnings totalled £35000 and the first thing he did on return was to contact an accountant “because the Inland Revenue are the real governing body of the sport.”   The article from ‘Scotland’s Runner’ talks about Split but unfortunately he didn’t make it.   He reckons he was in the form of his life with a 29:10 for a hilly road race but picked up a throat infection and was unable to run.   With a Scottish record inside 2:10 and thinking he was in even better shape, what could he have done to the record book?



Allister Hutton Marathon Career Record

No Date Venue Position Time Winner (Club) Time
  1 03 May 1980 Milton Keynes (AAA)    DNF   Ian Thompson (Luton) 2:14:00
  2 01 September 1984 Oslo (NOR)         2 2:16:08 Kjell-Erik Stahl (SWE) 2:13:01
  3 21 April 1985          London (AAA)         3 2:09:16 Steve Jones (WAL) 2:08:16
  4 20 October 1985 Chicago (USA)       11 2:12:28 Steve Jones (WAL) 2:07:13
  5 20 April 1986 London (AAA)                                             3 2:12:36 Toshihiko Seko (Japan) 2:10:02
  6 30 August 1986 Stuttgart (GER – Euro)     DNF   Gelindo Bordin (ITA) 2:10:54
  7 26 October 1986 Chicago (USA)       12 2:15:57 Toshihiko Seko (JAP) 2:08:27
  8 01 November 1987 New York (USA)       44 2:22:52 Ibrahim Hussein (KEN) 2:11:01
  9 17 April 1988          London (AAA)         6 2:11:42 Henrik Jorgensen (Denmark) 2:10:20
10 23 April 1989          London (AAA)       13 2:12:47 Douglas Wakiihuri (KEN) 2:09:03
11 22 April 1990          London (AAA)         1 2:10:10  
12 21 April 1991 London (AAA)       32 2:14:13 Yakov Tolstikov (RUS) 2:09:17
13 12 April 1992 London (AAA)       89 2:25:15 Antonio Pinto (POR) 2:10:02