The Scottish record in the Commonwealth Games Marathon has been a good one with Dunky Wright winning in the first Empire Games, and then Joe McGhee winning in Vancouver in 1954. Jim Alder is the third so far to win the event and it made all the front pages at the time. We can start our account of the race with an extract from the Minute Book of the Scottish Marathon Club:
The Selection: The Scottish Marathon Club Minute, Monday 20th June 1966:
“Mr Wright took the opportunity to apprise the meeting of the circumstances where Mr J. Alder had been chosen to represent Scotland at the Empire Games in the Marathon. Tradition was that our own Marathon Champion usually goes, but it had been known that A.J. Wood and A.F. Murray, with other possibles, had decided to run in the A.A.A. Marathon instead of the Scottish because of the closeness of the dates. It was considered inadvisable to run in both races and it was their opinion that better performances were likely to be shown in the British Championship when competing against this standard. The Selection Committee, aware of this, decided to await the result of the British Championship and if a Scot finished in the first six to select him as our representative. Jim Alder did in fact finish sixth. A.J. Wood finished ninth. A.F. Murray was unable to compete due to cartilage trouble.”
[The Scottish Marathon had been won by Charlie McAlinden from Gordon Eadie in 2:26:31 which was a very good time on a very hilly trail with hot weather.]
No marathon is without its own moments of drama and I don’t think that the three Empire Games marathon winners missed out in the drama stakes! Joe McGhee’s dramatic win in Vancouver was maybe in a class of its own but Jim also had his heart stopping moment when he took gold in Jamaica. The story of the race is told briefly in the history of Scottish Athletics by John W Keddie as follows.
“1966 and 1967 were halcyon years for Scottish marathon running. Jim Alder was a Scottish representative at the Empire and Commonwealth Games at Kingston, Jamaica in August 1966. Although the race started at 5:30 am the temperature was above 80 degrees throughout. But Alder was always in contention and at 25 miles (2:15:20) he was 15 seconds ahead. As the leaders approached the Stadium however there was some confusion in the wake of the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh. This led to Alder being misdirected and finding, when he did enter the track, that he was behind Bill Adcocks of England. The Scot was the fresher of the two however and on that last lap regained the lead and completed a famous victory.”
A succinct version of the story but Jim gives a much more detailed description of the race in Chapter Fourteen of his book. Before the race there was a series of incidents including a blistered foot after training barefoot but more importantly a contretemps about his entry in the 10000 metres Race. He had been selected for both the ten and the marathon but such was the heat in Jamaica that the team management decided that he would not run the former since they thought he had a better chance in the marathon. However Jim’s persistence was such that he arranged a meeting with team captain Crawford Fairbrother and vice captain Ming Campbell who acted as go betweens and he ran in the Six and was placed third. Nevertheless the officials were cool towards him and team coach John Anderson told him that going against orders was indefensible. And then the night before the race there were huge celebrations in the camp after the decision to award the 1970 Games to Edinburgh which did not make for a restful night.
The race itself started at 5:30 in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat and this, after the noisy celebrations the night before, meant that the runner had scarcely any sleep. Jim himself says: “Starting at that time in the morning was something of a worry. Doctors said ‘there will be deaths.’ Drastic but they meant it. The nearer it got to the day of the race the less I slept. I used to lie and think. I wasn’t worried about not sleeping though. I must have had only four hours the night before the race and rose at four, light breakfast and three spoonfuls of salt. It made my hair stand on end. I had done that every morning to play safe with the heat. And so to the Stadium – it was eerie, an empty arena except for the runners, one or two enthusiasts who would follow on bikes and of course the officials. Thoughts of the race charged through my brain constantly. The date Thursday 11th August 1966. The favourite Ron Clarke. I felt within myself that I could make it and controlled emotions as best I could.” Jim had to hold himself back as Clarke sped off and was soon a speck in the distance. Jim took in the view and worked his way through the field so that by halfway he was just behind Bill Adcocks and in third place. Jim and Bill knew each other well and ran together and at fifteen miles Clarke was coming back fast.
“I said, “We’ve got it, gold and silver.” We passed Clarke a a watering hole in a hell of a state, only just able to walk. ………. I was working out just where to strike and at twenty two miles I did it. I just turned the screw and quickly surged ahead two hundred yards. It is a conscious and physical effort putting the pressure on and sensing the other man – is he responding? No, the beauty of that morning was that I could see the shadows lengthening – soon I was thirty seconds ahead all I had to do was keep going and the gold was in my back pocket.” ….. “Suddenly problems were about to begin, for unknown to me the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne made an unscheduled visit which caused utter confusion. Nature being what it is all the marshals and officials left their posts and followed the Royal Party in a gaggle leaving me utterly confused as to how to find the entrance to the Stadium. I asked a car park attendant “Which way?” “I don’t know, man. I looked around in dismay. What a stupid situation to find myself in. The late Dunky Wright an old Scottish official saw I was bewildered and tried to help me out the best way he could and took me on a route up some stairs and down a tunnel …. eventually I managed to find the track and bright sunlight half blinded me. I screwed up my eyes and saw a figure on the track and to my horror saw Bill Adcocks 50 yards ahead of ne with only 300 yards to go. I couldn’t believe it, only one thing to do, no good getting upset – it was all on tap. I set off pulling back yard after yard eventually breaking the tape fifteen yards ahead of him.”
The SMC however were not finished with the race however and further discussions were held about selection methods. Dunky Wright’s recollections of the finish of the race were as follows: “The start was at 5:30 and that was in confusion, the course had earlier been marked off in 5-10-15-20 miles and at the finish. Alder had already run in the six mile and finished well and was sure that he had a good chance in the Marathon. At 21 miles he was in the lead and on reaching the Stadium was confused as Prince Philip had arrived at almost the same time and there was a security check. Alder turned in a door too soon and down a flight of steps. Wright stopped him and put him on the correct trail and he caught Adcocks on the track. Officially Alder covered the correct trail and Adcocks cut it.”
A final note on the relationship between Dunky and Jim. In an article in ‘The Independent’ about the Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race, Jim is quoted as saying “He won the Morpeth six times and he always used to say to me ‘You’ll no get my record.’ He was right. I won it five times. So did Mike McLeod. No one else has won six.”