The Older I Get The Better I Was

Alison Training in Windsor Great Park

This weekend was an anniversary of sorts. The United Kingdom Indoor Track Championships were held in Birmingham. Thirty eight years ago in 1981 Alison ran the women’s 1500m in the same competition. In those days there was no purpose built Birmingham Stadium. Alison’s championship was run on a very good wooden track built in an old aircraft hangar at RAF Cosford, a few miles down the road from Birmingham.

The result of the 2019 1500m championship race is shown in the table below.

1500 Metres Women Final

Place Name Club Time
1 Jemma Reekie Kilbarchan 4:17.08
2 Sarah McDonald Birchfield 4:18.10
3 Katie Snowden Herne Hill 4:19.34
4 Kerry MacAngus Kilbarchan 4:20.25
5 Rosie Johnson Liverpool 4:22.29
6 Jacqueline Fairchild Preston 4:22.63
7 Hannah England Oxford 4:22.68
8 Holly Archer Cambridge 4:23.71
9 Beth Kidger Brighton 4:24.46

The good news in that result is that the winner and the fourth place runner come from Scotland. That is good news because, you see, thirty eight years ago Alison and I were living in Scotland in a village called Auchterarder, better known as Gleneagles Golf Course. I worked in Perth and Alison ran for Edinburgh Southern Harriers. I became a one-eyed Scot in the process. To see two Scottish women still proudly flying the cross of St. Andrew in the 1500m does my heart proud.

Alison had the best training ground in the world. She clocked many miles on the roads around Gleneagles Golf Course and an equal number of miles up and down their immaculate fairways. The surroundings were idyllic but the weather was not always kind. Alison would frequently return home with eyelashes frozen solid by the biting Arctic wind. We had to abandon track work one night because the track was frozen so solid that even Alison’s spikes could not break through the ice. I spent an hour on another occasion shovelling snow off the inside lane of a four-hundred metre track. By the time I got around new snow had replaced everything I had shovelled at the start. Nevertheless Alison did the session; 4×400 all under 60 – in the circumstances a bloody good effort.

Probably the best Scottish winter story had nothing to do with running. It happened the night we were invited to an Edinburgh Burn’s Supper. I had just bought a kilt for the occasion and was wandering around the house with my sgian-dubh (Scottish dagger) in hand telling Alison to, “Bring on the English.” In spite of running for Scotland and having a Scottish mother, Alison did not seem impressed with my patriotic fervour. By the time we set off for Edinburgh it was snowing heavily. On a back road, close to home, we slid off the road just enough that I needed to get out to push the car back onto the road.

As I pushed and strained the Scottish wind caught my kilt and blew it up around my head. Alison looked out the car window, smiled and said, “Bet you wish the English were here now.”

The winter Alison ran in the British indoor 1500m championship was a good one. Arch Jelley set Alison’s schedules from Auckland, New Zealand, and I supervised her training. The table below shows her training and competition through the 1981 winter. But before tell you about her season let me describe what happened in the 1500m British Indoor Championship.

Alison had a good heat and looked embarrassingly comfortable winning in 4:30.30. I was not at all sure things would be as easy in the final. Some very good runners had made it through, for example Gillian Dainty and Jane Colebrook. A work friend of mine had come to watch the final and asked before the race where I thought Alison would place. I said that fourth would be a good result.

As things turned out the race was run at a perfect pace for an endurance based athlete like Alison. The pace was firm right from the beginning. Alison was doing a good job of sitting in second or third as the 200m laps went by. Then with 200m left she burst out of the pack and had a five meter lead that she held to the finish. She said afterwards that she suddenly realised, “Oh my God there is only 200m to go. I’d better get cracking.” It certainly worked. Alison was UK National Champion at 1500m in a time of 4:16.70. Alison is quietly delighted that 38 years later her time is better than the winning time this year of 4:17.08.

Here is the record of Alison’s training and competition in that Championship season.

Week Period of Training Distance – Miles (Kms) Competition Place & Time
1 Build Up 103 (165)
2 102 (163)
3 102 (163)
4 102 (163)
5 92 (147)
6 92 (147)
7 94 (150)
8 84 (134) Gateshead X Country 5th 16.50
9 Anaerobic 70 (112)
10 71 (114) Fife X Country 1st 20.00
11 67 (107) Crystal Palace X Country 14th 16.48
12 70 (112) Scotland Nat. X Country Relay 1st 11.15
13 74 (118)
14 Racing 62 (100) British Indoor Champs 1500 Heat 1st 4:30.30

Final 1st 4:16.70

15 60 (96) Closed Scotland Nat. X Country 1st 14.33
16 64 (102)
17 53 (85) UK V East Germany 1500 Indoor 3rd 4:20.40
18 63 (101) Boness X Country 1st 16.36
19 60 (96) Open Scotland Nat. X Country 1st 21:57
20 52 (83) UK Nat. X Country 13th 21.17
TOT   1,437m 2,299k Average 72m (115k)  

There are several features of Alison’s 1981 winter season that swimmers and runners today could well observe.

  1. The first four weeks of the build-up averaged 102 miles a week (163 kilometres). The eight weeks full build-up averaged 96 miles a week (154 kilometres).
  2. Through the racing and speed work period Alison averaged 60 miles (96 kilometres).
  3. Alison won both Scottish national cross country championships and UK national indoor track titles. I am convinced that the two complimented each other. Cross country providing the strength to do well on the track, especially in that last 200m at Cosford, and track providing the speed to do well at cross country.

Swimmers wanting to relate these mileages to swimming should look on the running miles as swimming kilometres ie. 100 miles running is the equivalent of 100 kilometres swimming. The numbers suggest our best swimmers are not swimming enough distance to compete with the world’s best.

If the indoor 1500m times from 1981 and 2019 are the measure of “The Older I Get The Better I Was” that is certainly true.

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