Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Scottish Period

It was an all too brief period of my life, but still remembered fondly, the years I resided and raced in, and for Scotland. It wasn’t all positive, but no point in dwelling on the bad aspects, much better to enjoy all the positivity I took from my running north of the border.

I’d been on holiday to Scotland on a few occasions, I loved the scenery and I was partial to the odd dram, but I never thought I would one day live there. I lived in a nice part of London, my job was there, most of my mates still resided in London and most importantly, my running club was just up the road, so why would I want to leave? I had actually visited Edinburgh with the Belgrave British League team, back in the 90’s, running my debut British League race, a 5000m in 1992 – I was 5th in the B race with 15:32, a year later I was back – improving my time at Meadowbank to 15:12 but only finishing 6th in the B string (still at least I wasn’t lapped this time).

After that season Edinburgh dropped out of the 1st Division so the next time I raced in Scotland was 12 years later, in 2005. At this point I was working for RBS and spending a few days at a time in Edinburgh. I would stay at the Holyrood hotel, nicely located close to Holyrood park and I’d do a couple of laps around the park before going to dinner. Sometimes my Scottish pal, Jim Buick, would meet up with me and we’d run around the park together or Jim would take me on one of his scary runs around Edinburgh, not scary because of all the ghost tours but because Jim had a habit of running across roads in front of traffic. Sometimes he’d take me along to one of Martin Hyman’s sessions at the Meadows, they were great sessions and even at 40 I was holding my own against the youngsters from Edinburgh University.

A torn hamstring in the first half of 2005 held me back a little, it was a summer of little racing, but I managed to get to the last of the Self Transcendence 2 mile races at the Meadows. Still not back to fitness I could only manage a 10:24 for 8th place. And then my life changed, RBS offered me a role based in Edinburgh and I agreed to take it. I moved up in November but the first 4 weeks were spent staying in various hotels, not the best when you’re working nightshifts, so as soon as a friend offered me a flat in Gorgie I took it, and that’s where I stayed, just around the corner from Hearts FC, until my own place was ready in March.

It was a great location for training, I had the canal close by in one direction and in the other I could get on a disused railway, converted into a path, which went all the way into Leith. I was training well, on my own, but because I hadn’t joined a Scottish club I hadn’t raced for a while. My next race in Scotland was on Boxing Day, a 14k handicap race at Beescraig. I was working Xmas day and when I returned home at 19:30 I wasn’t much in the mood for drinking on what had been my loneliest Xmas day ever, so a 14k blast seemed like a good idea. Jim picked me up and took me along to the race, I didn’t know anybody else there so it was a bit of an odd experience, over the years I’d got to know most of my opponents in London races. The race was (if I remember correctly) 3 laps of a country park route featuring a climb up and back down Cockleroy hill. So it was a bit of a trail come hill race, not something I was very experienced in, but it beat spending the day on my own. Jim had told the handicappers that I was a 30 minute 10k runner, based on the fact that I’d run under 31 minutes, once, 12 years earlier. This meant I was last off, a minute after the guy in front of me. So the lonely Xmas continued as I saw pretty much nobody for the entire race. As I descended Cockleroy the final time it was bonus time as I slipped over and managed to punch myself in the mouth (one of those punches that I could never have achieved with such accuracy or power if I’d planned it). Upon finishing, checking my hip and my teeth were still all there I found out I was 2nd fastest, Mark Johnston – soon to be a team mate at EAC was fastest. With that I was glad to see the back of 2005.
2006 was to start much better. I wasn’t working over the New Year but still new to Scotland I wasn’t exactly on everybody’s party list, so it was an early night, though I was rudely awoken at midnight by somebody setting off fireworks in the Castle. The next morning I headed over to Portobello for the promenade run, a 4 mile race that went out for two miles and back for two miles. I had a good race, the winner, Mark Draper, was always in sight and I was less than a minute behind Darren Gauson. I finished 4th after a great battle with Ross Arbuckle for 1st Master prize.

I then went to Japan for a couple of weeks to celebrate my birthday, so my next race was late February. By now I’d been approached by EAC to join them but I was still mulling it over. This race was the KB5 (5 miles around a hilly course at the Braids), where I apparently still hold the M40 course record! It’s a lovely course and since I moved around the corner a month later a route I used fairly often in training, in fact it was the first place I took Carole for a run (which probably wasn’t the best idea). Because my job required that I work every other weekend, races were not so frequent at this stage in my life and my next two were down in England, on duty for my 1st claim UK club, Herne Hill. My next race in Scotland was the Scottish Road Relays on 1st April, which I’ve already written a whole blog about

I followed this up with a run in the Jim Dingwall 10k, I could only managed 21st in the race and was disappointed with my time of 33:15 (though it took me three years to better that time). The rot was setting in, stressed out by my work and probably over-training, due to loneliness, I got injured.
My comeback was a low key affair, the EAC 5k handicap, where I managed the fastest time, 16:20. Then onto the cross country season. I actually had a good cross country season, the courses suited me, I finished the season as first Master in the East District league and was selected to represent Scottish Masters in the International Cross Country event, where we took the silver medals.

2007 started almost identical to 2006, I ran at Portobello again, coming 4th again and first master, running just one second slower than the previous year, how’s that for pacing. My next races were indoor, I’d decided I would use up some holiday competing at the European indoor old people’s championships. Because I’d never run indoor before I figured I’d better get some practice in so entered the Scottish Indoor champs and the Scottish Masters indoor champs, which took place at Kelvin Hall. I didn’t do so bad, I was 7th in the Senior 1500m, 4:18.25, but found that a bit fast considering I hadn’t been near a track for about two years, the next day I was 4th in the 3000m in 9:05.12 and a month later I took the Scottish Masters crown in the 3000m, 9:05.97.

It was Scotland where I did my first proper hill race, thought I ought to try it so I picked a short one, the Hunters Bog Trot. It was a strange affair, one of the hills was so steep I had to walk, I was feeling annoyed with myself until I looked up and saw the leaders, internationals, walking too. Well that was it, I’m a runner not a walker and I could have taken up race walking if I’d wanted to get a high ranking, I decided not to bother with hill running again. On the more normal hills I was doing great, passing people on every climb, only problem was on the steep descents I was being re-passed by those I’d taken and more. I remember one guy flying past me at the top of the hill but he was going so fast he couldn’t stop at the bottom and ended up diving headfirst into a gorse bush. As I passed him lying there I considered offering to help, but I was in a race. Thankfully he was ok and we enjoyed a few post race drinks together, during which he continued to remove gorse spikes from his forehead.

Over the next few years, despite getting older and slower I did quite well with EAC and represented Scotland every year in the international cross country. But I never quite ran my best, nightshifts put paid to that as I was living with a constant feeling of jet lag. During my last year there, at 44, I did start to regain some of my form as I prepared to leave RBS and nightshift behind, though I was quite shocked to win the Haddington 5 mile road race outright. My last race, living in Scotland was at Cumbernauld, one of my favourite cross country courses, in the Scottish cross country relays. A few weeks later I represented Scotland for the last time, having been told I would no longer be eligible when I moved back to England.

Four years on, May 2013, I ran my first race in Scotland, the Edinburgh parkrun, this being my first race since knackering my achilles was a slow affair and also my first parkrun in a fairy outfit. But despite being my slowest ever 5k it signalled the start of another Rog comeback that has so far resulted in a North of England bronze medal and a National Masters gold medal.

I don’t know when I’ll next be in Scotland, I have a different set of races to do with my Salford team mates, but next time I’m back I hope to coincide with a race.
One of my last races for EAC, East District relays at Prestonpans

Written by Roger Alsop

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