It is a Thursday night session at Cambuslang and the first group gets away from me. Then the second. I am struggling to keep any sort of pace going up the slightest hill there is and my average pace is plummeting faster than James Corden going off the highest diving platform in the world. Everything hurts, legs, head, pride, the whole lot. That was 6 weeks ago and I haven’t been back since. Three months earlier and I had stepped onto the podium in Derby to get my British Gold Medal. Aye, this is my 2021.
Forgetting pandemics, and even worse catastrophes like Susan Boyle’s appearance on River City, and looking at it purely from a personal running perspective, it’s been surreal and bizarre. Massive highs, massive lows, and everything in between. This is still my blog, as infrequently maintained as it is, and I do like to summarise my year. I like to look back at it no matter how good or bad it has been and this here 2021, despite too many spells on the sidelines for a variety of reasons, has been the best running year of my long life.
I had decided to concentrate on the short stuff. A wise man once told me “marathons are for d*cks” and marathon training for the marathons that never were had scunnered me. Paul Forbes had taken me under his wing and into his close-knit track training squad knowing what I felt I could achieve, and because he felt I could bring something to the group dynamic.
It is a good feeling to feel wanted you know.
Moving clubs from Motherwell to Cambuslang had been a tough decision, and going back into lockdown had meant that I couldn’t train with Cambuslang, I also didn’t know many of them well enough as hadn’t really had the opportunity, and previous friends and club mates had totally dropped me so my wee group kept me sane. Even when we weren’t able to run together we were in contact daily, planned sessions, aims, targets, man how good it was to feel included and good about your running without someone wanting to belittle what you had done. I mentioned my aims and I was honest enough right from the word go. I was turning 50 and felt that I could not only win the Scottish M50 steeplechase title, but if I could do the right type of training I felt that I could challenge the Scottish record. Aye no worries Marko, that it? Erm no… aim three? I wanted to try and compete for a Scottish vest for the first time since 1989. Cards on the table, I have one real chance and I wanted to go for it.
You know there is actually nothing wrong with aiming what is high for you as an individual, don’t let others stop you from doing this, don’t let others enjoyment in putting people down stop you from trying to be the best you.
There were stepping stones along the way. The first was the Monument Mile and an attempt to go under 5 minutes. On the night in very heavy winds I fell short after really bad racing on my behalf, but positives were taken, I finished really well, I beat some good athletes and my confidence was on the up.
I knew there was something brewing in the legs and my speed endurance felt better than it had in many a year. Blast Running 5k on a foggy Sunday morning, let us try for a sub 18, and if all good on the day go for 17.30. Went out too fast hanging onto a group but actually hung on. Finished fast and controlled in a massive PB of 16.47. It had come together. My combination of speed with my group, and endurance with Cambuslang had gelled. Followed it up with a decent but not outstanding 3000m on the track and put my name forward for selection for the Scottish Masters team for the forthcoming inter areas in Nuneaton and of course was unsuccessful. I wasn’t even in the picture and why should I be?
As it happens no M50 actually ran a faster 3000m in Scotland this year, and despite not being the first choice or even second choice (I don’t know how far down the list I was and don’t actually care) I got the call after a series of call offs and got that vest and could not have been prouder, but that’s later in the story.
I bought a hurdle to train for the steeplechase. Gaun yersel’ Red Rum. I am not a natural plus, I am a bit of a short arse and I left everything a bit late so when I went on holiday to England a few weeks before the Scottish Masters steeplechase the first thing I packed into the car was my hurdle.
I was training hard. Forbesy knew I wasn’t particularly happy with my 3000m and bounced ideas off another Scottish running legend John Graham and I went away with some more speed endurance ideas. Some of the track sessions were brutal but effective. On holiday I was getting up and training every morning, but was still eating ridiculously and having a pint or two every day. I found an abandoned track in Kent and had the best track session of my life and I was chomping at the bit to go.
We arrived back and the next day it was to be the SVHC 5K at Clydebank. It was scorching, it was a high calibre field, I’d had 2 weeks on the beer but I had never felt fitter. I went out fast again but this time believed I could hang on. I was in a group of athletes that I really respect and for once it didn’t faze me. People were dropping off the back of the group and I wasn’t one of them, I was racing! 1k to go and I took on runners I had no right to even be running with and I cannot believe how good I felt. This was the run of my season, of my life even. Confident, striding away, no fear and another PB in 16.38.
At the time of writing it’s still the fastest road 5k by an M50 in Scotland this year, really proud of this one. A few days later and an open graded at Pitreavie. 800m. With a modern day PB of 2.21 I wanted to try and get under 2.20 and the group had great advice and tips for me. I respected the advice and the experience, nailed the plan and won the heat by 12 seconds in a PB of 2.14.
It really was a real purple patch, started to believe I actually doing the Cambuslang vest justice for the first time. The week before the nationals and I wasn’t just where I had wanted to be, I was a good bit ahead. My PB from 3 years ago in the 3000 chase was 11.36. The Scottish M50 record was 11.19. Can I turn 50 and run 17 seconds faster than I had in my 40s? For the first time I believed I could. I believed in myself. The only real issue was I hadn’t been over a steeplechase barrier in those 3 years and believe it or not it’s not the easiest thing to arrange to get to practise on one. I managed to get East Kilbride track to take the barrier out of storage for me only 2 days before the race, not the wisest, but I needed it for my head, to know I could get over. Yes, I was hurdling on my wee internet hurdle, but these big muckle barriers were a different breed. Big heavy behemoths, looking at me like a bouncer outside the Garage in the 1990s. My confidence not great and I could tell that a step off may be quicker for me, but my mind was made up for me when I tried to hurdle, pretty much cacked my pants as I rose, seemed to twist my hip mid-air and jarred my back as I landed. Two days before the biggest race of my life and I was hurt. Friday and I could hardly walk let alone anything else. Could not jog or anything. Saturday was a bit easier when the adrenaline kicked in and I got 5 laps in before I started to toil, but I had enough in the bank to finish in a 42 second PB and to take 25 seconds off the Scottish record in 10 minutes 54.
Scottish champion and record holder.
Even I was allowed to be proud of that. Of course the sniders were quick to say it was a nothing event, and it was a poor record that would be easily beaten and no one out there is as self-deprecating as me anyway, so you start to dwell on the negatives rather than embracing the positives. Am I allowed to celebrate this, as I know I am no great runner compared to the real champions out there? I actually felt guilty to be celebrating something as imposter syndrome kicked in. If I had done it then of course it was nothing. It took words I appreciated from James Stewart who simply said to me “Records are there to be set and broken and you have done both.” At the time of writing it is still a Scottish record, the fastest time in Britain this year and the 6th fastest time in the world. I may not have a great deal of talent but that stat itself allows me to give myself a bit of credit.
I did that and I bloody loved every second of it.
The injuries were coming though. I couldn’t train the week after it and was due to run for Scotland over 3000m. There had been call offs. I had annoyed them enough to get selection. I did not care if I was 54th choice, or if my leg was hanging off, I am not missing this. I know it could derail my season. Nevertheless, I did it and I competed. 4th out of 9 in the 3000m in temps of over 80 degrees just outside my PB with a 4 x 100m relay thrown in for good measure.
32 years between vests and you would not find anyone prouder. I loved every painful stride. Wee fat Marko who couldn’t run up the hill at Jogscotland and got overtaken by people carrying their bags and wearing sensible anoraks, wee fat Marko who got overtaken by a guy in an inflatable Sumo costume at Movember and watched them get further away, they could have a wee smile at where they had got to. Even my obnoxious teen self who quit the sport in a petulant strop taking solace in cigarettes and alcohol would probably begrudgingly approve. I missed a few events as I tried to get back off the injury road and should have probably taken more time out but the British Masters was coming. I was confident that I could medal here if all went well. 1500m PB smashed as it got closer. A decent 800m but still in pain.
Then 3 days before the British Masters the hamstring goes. I was daft, I travelled down. I jogged. I stripped to my Cambuslang vest and took it on and despite feeling every step and having to reign in the jumps due to fear of the hamstring ripping I became British champion.
By this stage I really did not care what the naysayers said about it or me. Scottish champion, British champion, Scottish record holder, and I represented my country. The fact that I’m such a mediocre runner in their and my eyes actually makes the achievements even greater for me. I will look back at this in the years to come full of pride. My boys thought it was cool, that will do for me.
Inevitably, the crash(es) came though. Problems with hamstrings, groins, hip flexors, nothing settled down after this. My season has basically been over since. There’s been a few parkruns, Linlithgow 10k which was great fun, but I missed a load of planned races. Just couldn’t put any sort of training together. I had a family illness that meant I had to step aside from running and racing when I was starting to get somewhere again and missed a few events, and then I found myself on that hill in Cambuslang, back at square one. It has been tough, but would I change a thing about earlier in the year? I have to say no. I took the risk, got the rewards and paid the price. I got my racing back again last weekend though on limited training and the form was better than I expected. Way off where I was in an indoor 800m, but better than I expected, and I got to watch Forbesy break the indoor world record for M65 from a long way back and that was amazing.
So 2021. There will not be another year like it for me. I set targets, I worked hard, and I attained them. My wee summary of stats for myself that I can look back on:
800m 2.14.5 Scottish M50 Ranking 2, UK 16
1500M 4.32.91 Scottish M50 Ranking 2, UK 9
Mile 5.08.65 Scottish M50 Ranking 1, UK 14
3000m 9.53.3 Scottish M50 Ranking 1, UK 20
3000m S/C 10.54.35 Scottish M50 Ranking 1 (Scottish record), UK 1, World 6
5k Road 16.38 Scottish M50 ranking 1, UK 16
Had my fun, had my wee bit of glory, and now time to move on with no idea where my path takes me next, but as I close this chapter I need to say a big thanks to Forbesy, Paul and GG for everything they have done for my running, and to Elaine, Louis and Jon for their never ending support of my daft wee hobby. To anyone that has made it this far I hope you have had a great running year and all the best for the one to come.
Now have a song, but before that some pics from the year.