On Sunday April 9th some my fellow Edinburgh AC runners get our club’s participation in the spring marathon season underway in Manchester and Paris. Over the next couple of months other club mates will be running marathons in London, Rome and Edinburgh. I will be running the Hamburg marathon on April 17th.
Through the short days of the long winter months we’ve been putting our bodies through the mill to make sure we’re in the best shape on the big day. Although some of us have used marathons to raise money for charity before, none of us were planning to this year. That was until we received the tragic news of the death by suicide of our club mate, Andy Laird.
Andy had been involved with Edinburgh AC for many years and earlier in his running career was a strong supporter of club events and regularly turned out in an Edinburgh vest. Athletics clubs survive and thrive because of people like Andy. More recently Andy’s focus had mostly been on the weekly Edinburgh Parkrun but he still cut a familiar figure at other races from time to time. And recently he’d been talking of coming back to race more often.
I didn’t know Andy well, but we’d met a number of times at races since I joined the club three years ago. I was older than him but we were both some way into our veteran years in running terms and we chewed the fat about our aspirations and aches and pains. He was a friendly face and we first got chatting because he kindly approached me to say hello.
I last saw Andy in Run and Become in Edinburgh just a few weeks before he died. I had just popped into stock up on gels but stopped longer than I’d intended because we became engrossed in conversation about yes, you’ve guessed it, running. When you’re marathon training you get even more obsessive than usual about running and Andy was a good listener and very encouraging. I had no sense whatsoever of what was to come and only wish that was otherwise.
A few weeks later, at the beginning of March, I was invited to attend a meeting in Edinburgh to talk about SAMH’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, Ask once, get help fast. SAMH is Scotland’s leading mental health charity and I am privileged to chair its board. At the meeting I talked about the key themes of the manifesto including suicide prevention. In particular I talked about the fact that although the suicide rate in Scotland has been falling, it remains a major issue amongst men in particular.
Indeed amongst men in the 45-49 age group, of which Andy was one when he died, suicide rates have been rising markedly. We’ve got much better about discussing mental illness in Scottish society during recent years. But it’s still very hard to talking about and the stigma attached to it remains considerable. Talk of suicide especially remains taboo.
Thankfully that too is changing and the pioneering work of people like Josh Quigley, aka Tartan Explorer, currently touring Scotland to share his experience of attempting suicide, is working wonders. At the meeting I didn’t hold back from confronting the taboo and making the statistics real by sharing my own experience of attempting suicide in my early 40s more than 10 years ago.
It’s never comfortable doing that and probably wasn’t for some of the people in the room though a number clearly had their own experiences amongst friends and family. But talking about personal experiences in the first person makes the message real, however challenging that is. On this occasion however, what was far more shocking was that unbeknown to me, Andy had taken his own life just a few days earlier.
Andy’s death at such a young age is a tragic loss to his family and close friends. And we will greatly miss having him around. So after he died, we decided that this spring, with the blessing of his family, we would dedicate our marathon exploits to him.
We’re doing this by using the opportunity they present to raise funds for SAMH’s work on suicide prevention which includes sharing information and resources, providing prevention services and delivering training. Every penny raised in support of our marathons will be channelled directly to support that work.
Please donate at https://www.justgiving.com/ALEXANDER-MACEWEN
Thank you very much for your support.