Monday, 25 January 2010

Ultra legends from the 80s

Nothing much to report on the running front as the  knee is still goosed and unless things improve this year's Fling might be getting flung, but I will see how things go in the next few weeks.  While I was digging in the loft for my LA Marathon video, I found a pile of old home videos with races from the early 90s - mainly Springburn Harriers' races but also Edinburgh- Glasgow Relay races and quite a few National Cross Country Championships.   There is also a relay from Bishopbriggs to the top of Ben Lomond.   I know a few of the harriers want some copies, so I will try and get them transfered onto disc.

A few weeks ago I was reading the latest issue of PB and enjoyed the article on the top 10 Scottish ultra moments by Adrian Stott.  I have to agree with Adrian that, without doubt, Don Ritchie is the greatest ultra runner this country has produced and his 100km record in 1978 is regarded as one of the greatest distance runs of all time - 6 hours 10 min 20 sec (av pace 5.59 per mile). 

I was lucky to see him perform in the 80s and in 1983 watched Donald run at Coatbridge when he broke the 200km world best in terrible conditions - gale force winds and horizontal rain battered him all day and night.  I left the track late at night as he raced around the track with only a tee shirt and shorts to protect him from the elements, while the rest of the field were all wrapped up in full wet suits.  As I lay in bed that night and listened to the rain battering the window, I thought nobody would continue, but as I entered the stadium early the next morning there was Donald still lapping in the same attire!  A truly incredible performance which got zero coverage from any newspapers in Scotland but without doubt he is one of the top ultra legends of the 20th century.

During the 80s another ultra legend appeared - South African Bruce Fordyce.  In 1978 when we lived in South Africa I ran my first ultra, well 14 miles of it as I was my dad's seconder during the Comrades Marathon and I ran the last 14 miles to help him get to the finish in Durban.  The Comrades at that time had about 3000 runners and each runner, if they wanted, could have helpers following them with drinks etc but as the fields grew this was withdrawn due to huge traffic jams.  We had relatives living near the start and my uncle offered to take me on his moped with buckets over each handlebar and rucksacks full of drinks and food to allow us to get about easier.  As the field set off, we jumped onto the bike and shot off in the dark down quiet back streets that my uncle knew and that is one of my memories of that fantastic day, holding onto my uncle as we bombed along in the darkness out to catch the runners as they appeared down the hill at Polly Shorts as the sun started to rise.  The atmosphere during the race some 32 years ago with 3 000 runners was great and now with over 15 000 it must be incredible.

There were a few things that caused the race to become so popular and one was the tv coverage that started in the 80s when the whole race was covered from start to finish.  The other main reason was Bruce Fordyce - the king of the Comrades.  Bruce was the master tactician and thrilled the crowds and tv viewers with his surge in the second half of the race and flew past everyone as they dropped like flies.  I have videos of Fordyce racing in the Comrades from 82-86 and his run of 1986 is one of the ultra runs of the century. He set a new course record for the  down race ( it alternates each year) of 5 hrs 24.07 that was to last 21 years!  It was finally broken in 2007 by Russian Leonid Shvetsov, a man who had finished 13th in the Athens Olympic Marathon and we need to remember Fordyce set the record when athletics was still an amateur  sport.

Fordyce won the Comrades 9 times, including 8 in a row, but he was not a one race man and he also won the London to Brighton 3 times, beating the likes of Don Ritchie and Ian Thomson (2 hrs 9 min marathon runner).  Fordyce did the double 3 times by winning both in the same year. He set a world best for 50 miles during the 1983 London to Brighton passing the 50 mile marker in 4 hrs 50.21 and then the next year went to Chicago and ran an American all-comers record of  4 hrs 50.51 which gave him the two fastest times in the world.  A time of 6 hrs 25 min gave him the world best for 100km on the road in 1989 but it was his runs in the Comrades that made him, in my opinion, the greatest ultra runner of the last 30 years.

The video below shows the closest race in the history of the Comrades and the man who collapses just before the line is Tommy Malone from Shettleston who was a club mate of my father when they were boys running for Shettleston Harriers in the 50s.  Tommy emigrated to South Africa in the 60s and in the year previous to this dramatic finish, he won the Comrades at his first attempt and was attempting to retain it when he collapsed 80 yards from the line and lost by 1 second!  Later, when we went to live in South Africa, Tommy was still running and we used to meet up regularly at road races.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

A good read-"From last to first".

Yesterday I went for a walk and did some easy jogs every 10 min as I have been struggling with my left knee since Christmas Day. This is the first time in over 30 years running I have ever been injured with a sore knee and it didn't even happen while running. It gradually has improved and after yesterday there doesn't seem any soreness in the knee, so easy walking and jogging for a few more days yet. 

Last night I finished reading Charlie Spedding's autobiography "From Last to First" and it was a very enjoyable read, with the chapter on his bronze medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 giving us an insight into his involvement in, in my opinion, the greatest Olympic  marathon of all time.  In 1984, the field assembled contained all of the world's best including Salazaar, De Castella, Seko, Lopes, Inkangaa, the So twins, Dixon and many others. Spedding was certainly not one of the favourites, but on that day Charlie ran the race of his life and with a strong belief that he was going to perform well, he reached the pinnacle of his career.  I remember screaming at the tv as he hit the front with 5 miles to go and was just about sprinting as the big guns hung  on and then one by one dropped off  leaving just 3 in the race for medals.  Brendan Foster was doing his usual commentary  for the BBC but he couldn't contain himself as Charlie is his clubmate and longtime friend and was screaming "Charlie's sprinting, go Charlie, sprint, sprint"- they still had 5 miles to go!  Sitting on his shoulder was Lopes, who Spedding mentions in his book and he writes that at this point it was as if Lopes wasn't even breathing.   The 3 left included Ireland's John Tracey, one of my boyhood running heroes, running in his first marathon. That day Lopes was awesome and strolled away to win gold in a Olympic record and Tracey outsprinted Spedding on the track to take silver in his marathon debut with Charlie collecting bronze.  But that scene where Charlie went for it to destroy the remaining runners and guarantee himself a medal sticks with me to this day. I have the full marathon on tape and intend to sit down this weekend at some point and watch those last 5 miles again now that I have read his book. It's hard to believe it was 26 years ago but it still remains my favourite Games with some of Britain's all time greats competing - Coe, Ovett, Cram and Thomson, .  It was the first one to become a commercial success and from that day on there are countries desperate to hold the Olympics when bidding is started every 4 years.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow? what snow ?

                                                              Sunset on Christmas Day
                                                        Laura finishing 2nd in the 1 mile
                                                            After the 5 km road race
                                                             Down on beach after race  
                                               Memorial Bridge where the race goes over
                                                                     Christmas Day
Tuesday 5th January
Happy New Year to everyone and  good luck in 2010 with all your schedules, ambitions and races.  No posts for a few weeks as we have been over at our beach home in Florida at Sand Key on the  the Gulf Coast. We left on the 18th of December and it was -4 as we boarded the plane and today we returned to -6 and six inches of solid ice and snow on our roads and pavements.  As I looked at Sky News during our holiday, I kept saying "it will be all gone by the time we return no problem". How wrong was I?  While I was over in the States they had their worst storm for over 10 years in Washington and the Eastern Seaboard up to Maine with snow falls of up to 26 inches.  In New York with over 12 inches of snow, they had the city roads and pavements mostly clear within 12 hrs with no snow in sight.  The city pays $12 for volunteers to help clear the streets and with huge blowers and snow melting equipment they leave streets and pavements clear and safe for people to walk on.  

Arriving home today, I was shocked to see the appalling conditions the local councils have left the roads and pavements in when they are always preaching about health and safety in all walks of life.  To see elderly people holding onto walls and lamp posts or staying in as they are scared to venture out in this skating rink, is a national disgrace. To be running out of salt after 2 weeks of snow and ice is unbelievable.  If it was 2 months, I could see how the problem would arise.

That's me got that off my chest but for the last 16 days we didn't have to worry about snow, though it did get cold a few days as we had some cold fronts sweeping down from up north (cold was 58-62). Christmas Day was 71 degrees and nice beach weather.

This year we ran a 5 km race in Clearwater on our first morning after arriving.  Last December all 4 of us ran the annual Clearwater Say No To Drugs Holiday Classic and we all enjoyed the race and atmosphere and were looking forward to this year's event.  Unfortunately, it was the worst organized registration for a race I have ever taken part in and for the first time ever, I missed the start of a race. We had pre-entered in early November and all we had to do on the day was pick up our numbers, chips, long sleeved shirts and goodie bags and make our way to the start at 8 am. Arriving at 7 .10 am the lines were huge and after 1 hour we still hadn't got anything and there were still hundreds behind us in the queue ( 1,700 ran the race, 800 more than last year) when they announced the start was being delayed till after 8.15 am. As we were putting on our chips and getting ready to go to start some 300-400 yards away the bloody horn went off and the race started, even though there were hundreds still waiting for their numbers. Alison ran off to get to the start but I was in two minds whether to bother as I was desperate for the toilet after standing in the queue for over an hour, so I walked over to the start and joined in nearly 3 mins after the horn had sounded. It is a nice scenic run over the Memorial Bridge into Clearwater Beach and back to the park where we had started.  They were also holding a 1 mile race for kids and Laura finished 2nd in the race overall.  I ran through the field till I caught Alison and we ran the rest of the way together. Times were slow as it was very hard to get past the mass of bodies, but Alison's chip time put her 4th in her age group while mine was some 8 mins slower than last year where I was 3rd in 45-49 age group. After the race there was a free pancake breakfast with fruit, muffins and drinks.  The problem was that they were not ready for such large numbers and didn't have enough officials at registration and they ran out of  goody bags, shirts and food at breakfast.

Apart from the mess at check in, we still had a good morning and Laura was presented with her ribbon for second and we all enjoyed the breakfast afterwards.  Craig held the gear this year as he said" he is too big to run the mile and too unfit to run the 5 km this year".

Craig and I played 7 rounds of golf this holiday and Craig was easily the Christmas Champion winning 6-1 in games. I ran 6 times the first week out there all in shorts and tee-shirts but my running the second week was just about non-existent, as I slipped at golf and twisted my knee which became painful when I tried to run on it, so it was another blank week as I decided to rest it. Now that we are back hopefully I can get some runs in if I can find some black tarmacadam to run on!

Yesterday just before we left Sand Key I spoke to a friend who lives about 30 mins away inland but was working nearby, he had to scrape ice off his car windscreen in the morning as the temperature had dropped to freezing in some parts inland. So if you only have been in Florida during the summer you would not believe how cold it can occasionally be.

On a finishing note, we started  our holiday with a race and finished with a race but yesterday's race was not as scenic or as enjoyable.  Our flight from Tampa was 2 hours late getting into New York and we had 15 mins to get the only flight to Glasgow that there is each evening at 7.50pm. It was Sod's law that the Tampa flight landed at a gate at the opposite end of Newark airport so we were as far away as possible from the Glasgow departure gate and it left us with a good half mile plus to run to the gate. I ran ahead and Laura kept up as we ran down to the gate, arriving just as they were about to close the gate and they had already changed the gate overhead to read 'Los Angeles' which was the next flight out of that gate.  If we had not ran and managed to board at the last minute, we would have been stuck in New York until we could get onto a flight with 4 available seats to somewhere in the UK. Once on the plane Craig was limping and groaning he had twisted his ankle  sprinting and Alison spent the first half hour with a sick bag in front of her feeling ill with all the stress and that was before we had to slip and slide home from Glasgow Airport. 

At the airport, my father-in-law lost his car in the multi-storey  and we were wandering about for 20 mins in minus 6 degrees looking for a bloody Mondeo on either level 1,2 or 3! 

Once on the M8 his visibility was zero due to his screenwash being frozen and it was getting to the stage where we were going to have to stop on the hard shoulder and wipe it clean when Alison said she had the remains of a bottle of water from Tampa airport and came up with the idea of me leaning out the front passenger window and squirting the water onto the windscreen.  We did this from Glasgow to Lenzie with the water running out as we came into Lenzie.  Glad to be back?