After 30 years of trying…

Hello Fellow Athletes,     

On Saturday 6th February 2010 I fortunately won my first Scottish title after 30 years of trying! I am going to take you back to 1983 when l fortunately won my first Scottish medal. But first let’s go back to 1980 when l was 15 and a first year youth. I got knocked out of the 1500m heats and my coach at the time Eric Fisher (yes the same one) asked me why l had not entered the 2000m steeplechase. I managed to finish 3rd in the young athlete’s final in 1979  when l was a second year Senior boy but being a first year youth  the following year l had not ran a chase  as there were two better runners who were second year youths, John Blair and Nikki Robertson. The Steeplechase is all about confidence as l had not ran one that year l felt it was too big a step running the Scottish final, Eric understood.

The following year I was very fit and the late great Claude Jones saw how well l was going  at Meadowbank on the Thursday before the Scottish final that he said “You can win it! Nigel (Jones his son) won it four years ago, Andrew McKay won it two years ago, (both club members) your next! I went home that night and when l saw then showing us the weather  on the telly l looked at the map of Scotland (with a few clouds over it) and thought ‘l could be Scottish champion!” Needless to say it got too much for me and I never slept for two days. The race was a disaster. It was nerves, lack of sleep and the thought of being Scottish Champion that blew my mind. I was very nervous when l was younger so much so that at the East District 3000m Championships that year l was still in the athlete’s report room when Barry Craighead fire the gun and missed the race, that’s nervous! But as I got older I managed to control my nerves better.  The more you learn when you are younger the easier it is when you get older.

One of the problems was I started working at 15 in a shoe repair shop so always worked Saturdays which meant I couldn’t watch Senior Championships to see how it was done e.g Talk to senior athletes, ask them how they control their nerves and discuss tactics. Until one day in 1983  I was working in the Queensferry Street branch which had a half day on Saturday. The Scottish Champs were on one Saturday  in June so I went down to see how it was done. I saw Allistair Hutton  of ESH ( still the Scottish Marathon record holder 2.09.16) winning the 5k  in 13.45 with about 50 people sitting in the Stand and l thought ‘what is there to get nervous about? Nobody seemed bothered anyway apart from the athletes and their coaches’. I then saw the women’s 1500m which Violet Blair  another ESH athlete won by quite a bit in 4mins 14.47secs.  A great time that is still 13th on the Scottish all time list (2009). Her coach and husband (or other way round?) Bill Blair jumped over the blue railings at Meadowbank as he was over the moon because it was a huge chunk off her pb. I wasn’t to know that he would be my coach that September and still is. Thanks to his great coaching over the last 27  years l am fortunately writing about my first Scottish title, thanks Bill. 

So to the Scottish champs the following week. It was a good field as there was two gold medalists and two silver medalists from the previous year,  the 1st and 2nd youths who had moved up an age group and the 1st and 2nd juniors who had been first years in 1982. I had packed in running in 1982 as nerves had got the better of me but Eric Fisher found out where I worked and talked me into coming back, that’s coaching! I remember buying the Sunday Papers  in 1982 and seeing the  results from the championships and thinking ‘I am glad I am out of it’ as the guys had ran good times, never knowing that l would be taking them on the following year.

 The race went pretty well, I was lying 5th behind the big four then started to pick them off  one by one and was lying 2nd at the bell. I was catching the leader but unfortunately I fell at the last water jump and I mean fell in! I completely vanished for about four seconds and I remember doing breast stroke under the water. But luckily when I was a wee boy there used to be a cartoon on Saturday morning TV called ‘Marine Boy’. I was a member of the fan club and there was and an offer if you sent away four Chewit wrappers (two blackcurrant and two strawberry if I remember right as they are the best flavours, sod this lemon and lime carry on) you got a free packet of oxygum. Oxygum was special chewing gum that Marine boy used to take so he could breathe underwater. Luckily I had one piece left and when I fell in the water jump that day I took out a piece that I had put in that small pocket you get in your shorts, it didn’t half help. I managed to climb out of the water and a spectator shouted “the man from Atlantis has appeared at Meadowbank”!  I felt at home in the water it was just a pity it was during a Scottish final. I used to love the Irvine Allen seres ‘Voyage to the bottom of the sea’ (another Saturday show) and it felt like I was in a episode! I also loved the film ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’ and as I was football crazy in they days I thought ‘ l’d hate to be a team in the bottom division as it would take you age’s and age’s to get promoted to the top flight.

Coming down the home straight soaking a Cambuslang athlete overtook me and one was just behind me but I managed to hold on for a Bronze medal. You could say I made a Cambuslang sandwich (not nice). Claude Jones had whispered under his breath from the inside of the track early on in the race “come on Fergie get up there in the medals” and the Cambuslang athlete tried to get me disqualified. I ask you, I nearly drowned myself, he still beat me and it was hardly a vicious crime. The track referee came over to me and I said I never heard a thing. You find that in life, when you do something special there is usually always someone there trying to spoil it for you.

 My friends and fellow athletes who were siting down on the grass with their backs against the wall just were the blue railings finished said “you should have heard the noise you made when you fell in”.  One  long jumper stopped in mid air as it was that loud and another spectator shouted “who do you think you are, Bob Beamon?”. Angus Henderson Tayside AC won the race( brother of Calum) and said to me at the finish when l was shaking his hand (Cambuslang athlete would not shake my hand as he had went straight to the track referee) “what happened to you?” It was pretty obvious! I was like  the cartoon character Top Cat as l took out the towel from my poly bag and dried my hair and the rest of my body. There had been a few sport bags being stolen at Meadowbank that year so l used a poly bag as l thought ‘nobody’s going to nick that’ ,There is a method to my madness. Club captain at the time Dougie Hunter was sitting on the grass hills at Meadowbank with Club physio Bob Cockburn who said to me “Fergie l like your one and a half pike” and gave me 5.9 for artistic  impression. Bill Walker had watched the race and was standing at the blue railings killing himself laughing. Eric Fisher was speechless, that says it all.

For the remainder of the season my running friends called me ‘Jacques Cousteau’. It was a great feeling getting on the podium for the first time even if the announcer Ian Clifton could hardly pronounce my name because of laughter. Going home on the number 34 bus I felt a bit down as I thought I could have won the race if I hadn’t fallen in but we can all say what we could have done. My mum asked how I got on and I said “I got the bronze mum”, “that’s good” was her reply, that cheered me up.

That year I got picked for my first British league as the club was safe e.g we weren’t going to get promoted and we weren’t going to get relegated. It was good team management by Keith Ridley as he always used to blood the youngsters the last match of the season. The match was at a stadium called Wormwood Scrubs now called Linford Christie Stadium. I killed two birds with one stone and nipped into visit one of my relations. The match was on the day before Steve Cram won the gold medal at the inaugural World Championships in Helsink. You know you are getting on a bit when former team members son’s are getting into the British League team!

Looking back now it was definitely one of the days that changed my life (we all have them) and I feel if I hadn’t won a medal that day I would not be writing this now let alone  still running. I must admit I had giving up hope (something you should NEVER do in any aspect of your life) of winning  a Scottish title which makes it all the sweeter. But putting your life on hold and trying to win a race is hard and painful if things go wrong. It’s a bit like being in a relationship, you know it’s going to end one day but you hope it won’t be too painful. Or put another way, it’s a bit like a football team trying to win a cup as you have to beat everyone. Tell me about it! I’m a Hibs fan and we haven’t won the Scottish Cup since 1902. When Hearts won the Scottish Cup in 2006 and they lit up Edinburgh Castle, when Hibs last won it they were still building it. When I was training for the Scottish Champs in 1983  I was 18, most of my pals wanted to buy their first pint (legally), go out with girls and see an over 18 movie. All l wanted to do was win a Scottish medal, some things never change!

For the record here are my previous (failed )attemps: Silver: Marathon 2000, 2001 and over 40 cross-country 2006. Bronze 10k track 2000, 2001 and Marathon 2003 and of course Bronze 2000m Junior Steeplechase 25th June 1983. Number one in the singles chart at the time was ‘Every Breath You Take ‘by The Police and the number one Album was ‘Thriller’ by the late great Michael Jackson. The Style Council had just been formed that year, another day that would change my life, but that’s another story! If there are any athletes out there who get nervous to the build up to a race my advice is; Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, just do it(the Nike logo).

My Cat Scottie has just walked in with something in his mouth, l don’t believe it, it’s a packet of Oxygum! I better read the small print. Great! It can be used on land as well as underwater. I’ll take a piece before the National at Falkirk on Saturday and as there are twelve pieces I’ll have one piece a week during my marathon training for the British Championships at Fort William on April 18th. A British title, what a nice thought. Scottie were did you find the Oxygum? “Miaow, miaow” he found it in the goldfish tank, but Scottie my goldfish Tom, Dick and Debbie Harry will need it. “Miaow, miaow” they said they have seen how your training is going for the British Championship and your need is greater than their’s. Thanks goldfish, l never knew they cared, I’ll give them an extra portion of Aquarian tonight.

Oh l almost forgot, the Scottish Title I fortunately won was the over 45 Cross-country. I suppose it not a ‘real’ Scottish title but now being 45 and  after 30 years of trying, I’ll take it!

Kind regards, Club Captain,

Martin Ferguson

6 thoughts on ““After 30 years of trying…”

  • garry

    Fergie, an excellent write up. You had me laughing most of the way through it. You are also too modest, there is nothing fortunate about winning titles!

  • Richard M

    Great write-up Martin! Congratulations on winning that Scottish title! Shows that persistence, never giving up hope and recovering from a good fall are virtues that all quality athletes have!! That and never being too far from a piece of Oxygum!

  • Brian Nisbet

    Martin, that is a brilliant write up. I am reading it late on and have just woken the whole house up laughing out load. I take my hat off to your commitment and dedcation to the sport and or club. I hope all the younger athletes in our club read this article – and are inspired to strive to follow your foot steps become ‘Champions’

  • Stephanie

    Hi There,
    I’m Claude’s granddaughter and came across your post while researching his career at Edinburgh Athletics. Its lovely to see that he is so fondly remembered. Congratulations on your win.
    Best Wishes,

  • Pingback: Edinburgh Athletic Club » EAC Race Reports

  • Sonya Grainger

    Congratulations, Martin. You’re an inspiration to everyone. I remember your great sense of humour when I used to train with you many moons ago. I’m sure you helped many of us cope with the hard sessions that our great coach, Bill Blair set us, especially in Winter. Your report was excellent and it reflected your wonderful warm sense of humour. Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Our Podium Award

  • Club Gallery

  • Club Stats

  • Support Edinburgh Athletic Club

  • Award Badges 2019

  • Archives