North Berwick Law Race

North Berwick Law Race, Changing of the Guard

Alex MacEwen has been reminiscing on the North Berwick Law race, and shares his thoughts below…….

Reflections on the North Berwick Law Race by Buck Marker

 Edinburgh AC hosted this race between 1960 and 2019 and it was held annually on the first Wednesday in August. I have gathered together some reflections, based on the available results in the old style, i.e., hand typed sheets of A4 and more recently on that wonderful site Scottish Hill Runners. It was a race with many memories for me.

 Registration manually on the night in the RNLI shed, a quick glance at the whales jawbone at the summit, grabbing your wrist band, then a tough descent,the stirring pipe band as you hammered onto the road to the harbour. A fish tea after the race was always welcome. The drive back usually in a glorious sunset over the Forth.

The reflections below come about as the management of the event is passed to a local community event group, who aim to put the event into their sporting calendar and take advantage of a good local network of knowledgeable sport managers and volunteers. A good thing local ownership. Supported by the local Council and their offices, it makes sense for EAC to hand over to local organisers after 60 years

1960 John Linaker (Pitreavie AC) won the race, a fabulous steeplechaser. Fields in the sixties were 10 or 20 men, all from athletic clubs. Names that stand out are Barry Craighead (CG official), Doug Gillon (journalist) Eric Fisher (coach) John Fairgrieve (steeplechaser and lead official), Bill Gauld (Carnethy inspiration) the Knowles twins.

In 71 the course was extended taking in more road from the Park and was won by the late Robin Morris (EAC). Robin was one of the several shapers of Scottish Hill Running Commission and its extensive fixture list.

 A time of just over 15 minutes surely makes this a brutal AS race?

In 1972 course extended again starting at Harbour and won in 17.42. Robin was fourth. London marathon winner Alistair Hutton (ESH) is eighth in 19.47 The next year it was won by 800 metre specialist Paul Forbes (EAC) in 18.29. George Armstrong (HELP), Claude Jones (EAC) and John Blair Fish (EUAC and Carnethy) completed. Two junior women appear in the results covering the ground in just under 30 minutes. John Wilkinson (Gala Harriers) sets course record of 17.51

 In 1989 1990 had over 100 finishers with about 25% of the field unattached and some 15% women and girls, Jane Robertson (Ayr Seaforth) now team managing for Scottish Athletics was the winner in 22 minutes. Veterans are appearing but not in depth. First vet was Robin Morris now competing for the specialist hill club Carnethy. A time of change! Keith Burns another Carnethy stalwart and influencer finishes close to Robin. Other names pop out who still contribute such as Dave Cairns (Penicuik Harriers), Robin Thomas (HBT), Scott Innes (ESH), Ian Hislop, Bob Cockburn (EAC) and Sandy Wallace (HELP) Field sizes go up, more vets appear and more women The race reflects national changes as documented by Steve Chilton in “Voices from the Hills” pioneering women hill runners

In 1993 Mark Munro Dunbar AC and EAC runs as an Under 15 in 23 minutes. Later to lead Scottish Athletics and UKA. also, Penny Rother (EAC) as a vet was just pipped by legend Helen Diamantides (Westerlands)

1995 was won by Adam Ward International fell runner (19.04) who gave up the track: it was like watching paint dry! Brian Howie (ESH) won the vets in 21 minutes and Elspeth Scott (Westerlands) ran 24 minutes. Alex MacEwen ( EAC) did 24 minutes too but well behind first EAC Gav Phillip in 23 minutes A year later fields now up to 150 and the legend Angela Mudge (Carnethy) runs 24 minutes beaten by track specialist Leanne Harrison (EAC). Adrian Stott, ultra runner takes part and 50 % of the field are now unattached, i.e., not in a club.

In ‘97 Angela runs 21 minutes and finishes 10th A lot of men were “mudged” in that race. Angela runs even faster the following year. CG steeplechaser Don Naylor (HBT) wins in just under19 minutes YP trundles round in 35 minutes: perhaps topping up at the drink station? ‘98 Angela is 6th and setting new record of 20.24 Central AC are appearing in results. EAC and ESH have amalgamated to be City of Edinburgh. New clubs such as HBT, Carnethy, Standard Life, HELP appear in results as the traditional clubs like Fife, EAC have more competition. Clubs like the race itself are moving on from purely athletic competition to broader participation.

 In the 2020s another wave of participant will drive up numbers as folk seek mental and physical health benefits. Into the new century, Megan Smith (Mowbray) was first woman. Megan had competed for Scotland at World Mountain Running champs in Edinburgh in 1995.

2004 and 2003 see record fields, with nearly 200 competitors. Phil Mowbray (HBT) wins in 19 minutes The race always attracted elite performers. Phil competed for UK at world cross country champs Colin Donnelly was team silver counter for Scotland at World Mountain champs. Colin ran as a vet at the Law race in just over 19 minutes. Vets now being about a third of the field. Alex Jackson (Ferranti) sneaked under 30 minutes Alex like many club runners either compete or go on to volunteer as organisers, officiate or coach within the club structure. The fields are now 70 % unattached participants

2009 and 2011 saw field of 200 participants Don Naylor wins again. Did anybody win more than six times? In the women’s race, legends Megan Mowbray, Kate Jenkins and Lucy Colquhoun battled out for top three but over three minutes away from women’s record. 2010 saw Scout Adkin from Moorfoot club, another new local club that is shaping fell, trail and cross country running.

2012 HBT were winning women’s team: Wardlaw, Bell and McKechnie. In the great and good category, Frank McPartland, Alan Coltman, Susan Lyle, Hilary Spencely, Eddie McDonald and Neil Park ran All these folk contributed as volunteers and paid staff in sport and education. Again you can see change as volunteers and paid people shape the sport.

2014 saw over 300 finishers half of them vets. Nearly 50 youngsters ran. Over 80 women finished: a huge change since 1960 with more participants, vets, women, unattached and youngsters Only two members of the host club took part in 2014 . Time to change.

2019 Pre Covid illustrated again how the Law Race mirrors the changes in endurance running over 60 years. Womens winner was CG former triathlete Cat Morrison The fields have grown massively from the 10 or so male club participants in the early days Not only grown but changed in composition Some may observe a decline in performance despite the event attracting top class UK performers As a last thought, EAC wish to thank all those volunteers who gave their time over 60 years some of whom sadly are no longer with us Every success to new local organising group.

Buck Marker June 2023

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