Posted on: 29 Apr 2015
I can’t remember who it was that wrote the first backstory , but I know that there have been a few posted now. Each one is so insightful and illuminating and gives a greater picture of the personal and why they have become a long distance a runner . I’ve thought about doing mine from time to time , normally while I’m out running, Bev's post this morning prompted me into finally putting it down. The same question comes up regularly, the one we all ask of ourselves, “ why am I doing this?”. I’ve attempted to answer this below and to fill in the gaps a bit to give you my backstory.
As long as I can remember I have been competitive , I remember being distraught at not winning a sack race on sports day at school. Our family holidays were spent with family and cousins on the remote beaches on the West coast of Scotland and there were always organised races over the dunes, bottle boat races, long jump competitions, we made most things into a game of one sort or another. I am the eldest of all the cousins and have two younger half brothers and a sister so I always felt I had to set the standard !These competitive family games are now upheld in our annual Family Olympics which takes place over the last weekend in July every year, eight teams of three battle it out for the coveted trophy and title.
My dad was a vet, a fit strong sporty man who’s passion was rugby. He had played for the Glasgow University and represented the Highland Rugby club too. Mum and Dad married while at university but divorced when I was only four years old, despite this they remained friends and my sister and I went to stay with Dad each weekend and lived with Mum during the week. As I grew up it became obvious that Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps as a rugby player, he encouraged me to play rugby and at 8 I joined the local mini rugby club. At that age I was a pretty decent player and became captain of the team. I was a nippy stand off and top try scorer , I remember many muddy cold Sunday mornings but I don’t really remember them with much affection I was doing it for Dad rather than for me. We travelled North to Edinburgh twice a year together when he took me to watch Scotland play internationals at Murrayfield. The memories of these weekends are special, its the first time that I had witnessed the passion and drama of live sport and I loved it. The atmosphere was like nothing I had ever felt before, to see and feel how important the occasion was to so many people gave me goosebumps, the singing of the anthems, the smell of pipe smoke and malt whisky and the outpouring of emotion to celebrate a moment of magic will stay with me forever.
At secondary school age I began to play football and got involved in as many school sports as I could. During the first term , aged 11 we had our first cross country race. I can remember quite well half way through the race feeling short of breath and when I finally finished way down the field hardly being able to breathe. They took me off to the first aid room and Mum came up to the school to collect me. I went straight to the doctors who diagnosed asthma, I was put onto medication and inhalers and learned top control it. I didn’t want it to prevent my enjoyment of sport so I got on with things as best I could.
Around this time I was booked into hospital for a minor operation,I had been born with a small hernia in my abdomen and the doctor advised repairing it. During the operation, while I was wired up to the monitors the surgeons notice heart beat abnormalities. After recovering from the op I was booked back into hospital for further tests where they discovered that I had a hole in my heart ! At the age of 11 when you are told that you have a hole in your heart you imagine a doughnut and it is a frightening realisation. Of course the hole is only a pinprick but it wasn’t really explained to me that well and things felt a bit bleak until I learned a bit more about it. After more tests and regular check ups it was decided that I was functioning normally despite the doughnut heart and life returned to normal.
Rugby became more of a struggle over the next few years, I was small and slight and I found myself up against lads who were big strong and hairy. If your’e a stand off and you don’t want the ball then you aren’t much use. I knew that Dad would be disappointed if I quit so I decided to put more effort in. The next game we played was an away fixture at a very good team. I was asked to play full back that day for some reason and we got battered but I threw myself into the game without fear. I made tackle after tackle on players twice my size , it was relentless one way traffic. At the end of the game I was clapped off and I remember Dad saying that I’d played a blinder.
It was to be one of the last games that Dad saw me play. The phone rang at 4am on 5th Feb 1982, I heard it ring and I knew it wasn’t good news. Mum came into the room and told me that Dad had died in his sleep he was just 44, I was 14. In the rather cliched rock’n roll sense Dad had choked on his own vomit after a night out to celebrate his birthday with colleagues. At 14 I was neither man or boy and tried to deal with the situation by being as calm about things as possible, I even went to school that afternoon to play in a rugby game. In retrospect that period shaped me in so many ways, I developed my own coping mechanisms and concentrated on doing things that I enjoyed and made me happy, sport and art.
Teenage years were spent playing football to a fairly decent level ( I decided to give up rugby after Dad died ) and trying to make these years as normal and happy as possible . I think I made a very conscious decision to try to not let the death of my Dad define my adolescence and I think I succeeded in that.
My Dads younger brother Neil decided to run the Aberdeen marathon just a few years later in memory of his brother, he trained like a demon for it and ran a very decent 3.33.46 ( despite stopping at a pub to use the facilities and have a swift one ). He threw down the gauntlet to the family to beat that time, there was a crate of champagne to anyone to take the family record. I was 18 at the time any its funny how your idea of a marathon changes over time, back then I had not one ounce of desire to give it a go !
I went to art school and then got a place to do an MA at the Royal College of Art in London. I even started an RCA football team, I think we played two games - one against a team from Goldsmiths against a side that included a young Damien Hirst! I played sunday league football in London too, and finished as top league goalscorer three seasons in a row. I bought a pair of running shoes and took myself off around Highgate woods and up and back over Muswell Hill. nothing major just running for runnings sake. I met my wife to be at the Royal College, Jill was an intriguing photography student with long legs and a taste for beer ( a good combination in those days ). We married just 18 months after meeting and set up a studio together near Turnpike Lane where we lived and worked for 7 years.
In 1998 we finally decided to leave London, we couldn’t afford a house down there and were going to be evicted from our studio squat! Purely by chance we ended up meeting a lady who offered to let us live in her boyfriends tiny croft cottage on the West Coast of Scotland near Oban, this sounded like an adventurous way of leaving London so we took it.
We moved from the busiest city in the UK to one of the remotest places in the country. The cottage was 3 miles up a winding forestry commission track and in splendid isolation. Red deer fed outside the kitchen window golden eagles nested nearby , our horizons were Ben Lui, Ben Dubhchraig and Ben Oss, our back garden extended for miles over mountainous wilderness, I took a part time job at a picture framers and we survived on £80 a week !. For a year we explored, relaxed and had wild parties when friends visited. I walked and ran through the hills and swam in the river, it was a reckless time and one that I’m so glad we had. Unfortunately Jills father became unwell and it made us realise just how remote and detached we were from civilisation, we needed to be nearer families and to build a more reliable source of income.
In 1999 we moved to York, roughly half way between Jills family in Durham and mine in Cheshire. Within 3 very busy years we had bought and renovated a house, each started our own businesses and had two children - Isobel born in 2000 and Hamish in 2002. In had also joined Wigginton Grasshoppers and taken up Sunday league football again, it was a really good way to meet new people in a city where I knew no-one. In my second season we played Leeds Utd Old Boys and I was awarded a player of the match by Peter Lorimer a Scotland and Leeds legend. I also began running as part of our training sessions and realised that I nearly always finished in the first group back so started to go out occasionally on my own for the odd run, nothing ever more than 4 miles. I started my own 6 a-side Thursday night football team and gave up the sunday league at the end of season 3, the weekend football was getting in the way of family life. 13 years on we still play 6-aside on a Thursday night with the same bunch of friends - most of us are in our late forties a couple are 50+ , we manage to give most teams a decent game and the social beer afterwards is almost as important as the match.
In the summer of 2009 I got together with all the male folk of the family on what we call “The Gentleman’s Sporting Club “ weekend, it is generally an excuse for us all to meet up without wives or children at a sporting event and drink and relax together for two days. Late on the Saturday evening Uncle Neil brought up the subject of marathon running and reminded us all that his 3.33 had stood unbeaten for over 25 years. His son Johnny had tried three times to break it but fallen short at 3.43. Without thinking I said that I would have a go. A week later Johnny, my brother Iain and I secured places at the Loch Ness Marathon and started a 16 week training programme. I took my running shoes to our local running shop to see about getting a new pair as I had had the same pair of Hi Tec Siver Shadow for 18 years ! the staff in the shop laughed at them and said they were 80’s army issue. With a new pair of trainers my first 5 mile run left me gasping and fully aware of the challenge that lay ahead. Finishing the Loch Ness Marathon in 3.48 that October opened my eyes fully to the beauty of the Marathon. I said never again in the pub afterwards but two days later entered the Edinburgh Marathon.I know I'm not the most gifted of runners but I also now know that be commiting fully to a cause you can achieve things that you thought were unreachable, this became my approach. In 26 degree heat the following May I ran 3.37 , Neil was a spectator and at half way felt sure I would beat his 3.33 but the heat really affected the second half of the race and I was proud of my time that day.
Unfortunately a few months later I tore my cartilage in my right knee playing football and was forced to stop all running. The MRI scan revealed a significant tear and an operation booked in, the surgeon recommended that after the operation that I should stop all forms of high impact sport such as running and football for good. Within 6 months I was running and playing football again and in 2013 I decided to enter the London marathon with Johnny and Iain again. This time I was even more determined that the family record would tumble, to document my training and give myself some accountability to others I decided to join a blogging site and joined Realbuzz - most of you know my story from there , one of hard work, disappointment again and then finally double glory !
The site has provided an almost daily helping of inspiration and motivation, I’m positive that its the reason why I’ve carried on running and setting myself running goals. The shared experience and genuine sense of unity amongst this disparate yet very similar group of people has been incredible.
I’m not so interested in chasing times on road marathons so much anymore although the competitive voice in my head is often telling me to have another crack at lowering the family record ! My son Hamish already has my York time of 3.17.23 in his sights and knowing him he'll cruise past it first time, at least its there for him to have a go at. Running as an adventure and the shared experience of doing something challenging is what excites me, I have my first ever fell marathon in 3 weeks. Later in the year York and Snowdon marathons in the illustrious company of Realbuzzers to look forward to and next year I’m very tempted by the lure of an ultra across the wilderness of north-west Scotland.
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