Tipton Tuesday and fish and chips a 50th Birthday celebration from Brian Aitken
“My life begins tonight…”
Frankie Fredricks words to a Namibian journalist on the athletes’ bus the night he won the 1993 Stuttgart World Championships 200 metres.
As my 50th birthday approached, it got me thinking. Moët and lobster, a flight to an exotic destination, a west end theatre weekend to see Miss Saigon or a bit of posh football hospitality?
Forget that, it was time to put my crumbling, groaning moaning body on the line for a new running experience.
Edinburgh AC’s captain, Martin Ferguson celebrated his 50th birthday by running the original, historic and romantic Olympic Athens marathon course, an achievement way beyond my emerging Homer Simpson physique. However, his exploits fired my imagination and dwindling synapses. Then as easy as putting a cash into a fruit slot machine, the penny dropped, the track 10, 000 metres. A distance never attempted by me before, a fitting 50s! The track event of running legends, their feats alongside all other great athletic achievements epitomised by the American writer Ernest Hemingway’s phrase, “Courage is grace under fire.”, Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, , Vladmir Kuts, Billy Mills, Naftali Temu, Lassie Viren, Miruts Yifter the shifter, Alberto Cova, Khalid Skah, Derartu Tulu, Liz McColgan, Yvonne Murray, Tirunesh Dibaba, Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and of course, Mo Farah. My mind also wandered reluctantly to the great Ron Clarke, who was cruelly and heroically felled trying to win the gold that eluded him four years earlier by the rarified air at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
The 10 000 metres, a classic event with history, a truly gritty brutal and attractive proposition. Bring it on!
Training was light, but as the big day loomed ever closer, I managed to get my 5km park run time down to 21.50 – sub 50 was a possibility!
A few weeks later, it was time to do two back to back park runs to ensure that in my mind at least, I knew I could achieve the distance. Fifty- three minutes at a canter, my confidence was soaring like a seagull in flight around the port of Leith. I was clicking my heels in joy.
Then bang, a listless 25min 5km run, a tweaked hamstring and a flare up of an auld ankle injury.
Oh, how I love the ups and downs of athletics; an allegory of life. Birthday boy was in trouble. Ice and rest was all I could do as there was only 10 days to B’ day. Buying a pair of tight lycra shorts to protect the hamstring injury was another psychological ploy employed and a few early nights- “Every hour before midnight is worth two”, a mantra of Eric Fisher. Another of his white pearls of wisdom was to never have a hot bath or go swimming the night before a race.
I was becoming so panicked I was thinking about sticky- back plaster as approved by Blue Peter in my early youth. Maybe Pizza and beans with some pals would have been the better and more realistic 50th goal! Keep calm and carry on was my main mindset though. It will be all right on the night.
The day arrived with great anticipation and more than a little trepidation. The weather was grand though, a major plus.
Some red raw beetroot juice at lunch time a few hours before the run, taken in isolation from work mates to ensure they did not think I had become a vampire over night. I also decided to run in light waterproof trousers to keep the muscles warm in the chilly February cold.
When worked finished I walked the two miles to the Tipton track past the many wild horses that graze in the green areas, preoccupied by the fact that I was going to be soon on my favourite surface, a tartan track, one I had not been on for ten years, and one that had hundreds of wonderful vivid past memories of harsh intense training and battles won and lost. Meadowbank and the club 800m championships in ’78, Pitreavie ’82, Cosford ’84, the grit tracks of Scotstoun and Saughton, and the trots around the famous Zurich, Athens (old Olympic stadium – well worth a visit especially if you’re into history and architecture) and Oslo surfaces while inter -railing many moons ago.
I paid my £4.50 entry fee to the Tipton Sports Academy (stadium in old money) and changed in the bright modern empty changing room.
Tie and suit off, then off I went to the track area for a short warm up.
At the start line, fear stalked me, surely I was not going to crash and burn on my big day. The only person I was running against though was the distance and the stop watch. I guess ultimately that’s what the sport is really all about.
Twenty- five laps to go, and off I went. I gauged the pace early doors with a faint hope that a sub- 50 could be run. However, after the first mile I knew it was about getting round. The early adrenaline was gone, it was now
time to think solely about the task, time to roll up the sleeves and grind it out. I was not the “Mobot”, I was the robot, the tin man; stiff and sore- but this was it!
The laps went by, and my body was holding out. I dealt with race lap by lap, mile by mile, staying in the here and now, the focus total and complete. I had the small stadium to myself so no problems with lines of running.
Strange after 5km as I was now in track territory where I’d not been before. I was slowing down, but ran within myself. It was not going to be fast or pretty, but it was going to be done!
My body was going to hold out- no Farah 51 seconds last lap. Just a waddle and reduced strides to ensure no recurrence of hamstring injury. In the early evening twilight, I was going to wave to the crowd at the crown of the bend then remembered no one was there. Shuffling across the line slowly but euphorically in just over 53 minutes, there was no whooping, just a feeling of great relief and weariness.
The 10, 000m is a fab distance with a life of its’ own, a shame it’s not run more often. Seemingly, a recent survey rated it sixth on most people’s bucket list. I wished I’d run it when I was younger. But as the saying goes, better late than never!
After the run, fish and chips Alf Tupper style, beaming and proud that another wee gnawing challenge was met and ticked off my bucket list.
As the light faded to chilled darkness, I limped slowly and gingerly up the road and on to a warm cosy bus hame with a story to tell about an unusual Tipton Tuesday in February.