Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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Night of PBs 2019 - Part 1

PAUL MASKELL is the North London, Leisure & events Manager and communicator for Hampstead Heath
“I have worked for the City of London for 23 years and, this undoubtedly, is the best event we have ever had. The National cross country was brilliant, but a different event at Parliament Hill but to-day, has got it. It has got the razz metazz, the style, the booze & the food.
He added “Having the European Cup here and having Tim Hutchings, Liz Mc Colgan and Andy Vernon coming to it and, Seb Coe came last year.”

DAVID BEDFORD OBE, talking to me at the Highgate Harriers, Night of the 10k’s Personal Best’s at Parliament Hill.
You were the last British runner to break the 10,000 World record with a time of 27:30.80, on the 13th of July 1973 and only, five other British runners have beaten that since then. In Brendan Foster’s case in 1978 by a tenth of a second.
Why do you think there have not been more British athletes achieving a time like yours, over so many years?

“When I came into the sport athletics was really a very attractive sport. We had a lot of news print, The newspapers spoke about it. Not only of track & field but cross-country as well so, it was seen as very mainstream. If you think about the large number of people that used to train. Almost every single club had a group of people going out and working hard. I think that number has eased back over the years. There are loads of people running but, ’I think a lot of the competition has gone out of it. Even if you were best in the club you had to  train really hard and, even if you were the best in the county you had to train extra hard and so on’
‘I don’t think the average guy who is good in the clubs are doing as much as we used to do. 7 days a week, twice a day which, an awful lot of people were doing. Certainly, even people running 29 or 30 minutes were running 70 to 80 miles a week, without any difficulty. ‘I think a lot of the competition has gone out of it.’
‘I think the view of the sport is a bit less sexy than it was and, of course, the whole sport has been implicated significantly in peoples minds by the on going drug scandals all the time.”

Steve Backley said to me that it a shame that the National papers just appear to give stories of drug cheats rather than more on athletics itself?
“That is the only time you read about it except for reading about Mo Farah or the some of the 2012 Olympic successes but, all you mainly read about is just that another positive is found so, apart from that it is all you read about. It is almost rust on your sport. It wears it away over time. It is another positive found so; it is another nail in the coffin for athletics. It is difficult and, it is not because the sport does not take it seriously. Our sport does take anti-doping measures very seriously but, it does not seem to be winning the battle with it.”

When I was running in my 30’s and you were running well in your 20’s, at the time, the camaraderie was really good and people you competed against, like Tony Simmons, Ian Stewart, Colin Moxsom Andy Holden, Dick Taylor and Mike Beevor used to try and steal a march on each other by the amount of training they did and, have intense battles in races but, would all have a good social friendship with each other besides, despite the rivalry!
‘At club level there was competitions almost every week, even if you were in hard training, you still did not avoid competition so, I think it is the pressure in recent years. People are more scared of racing than they used to be generally.’
‘You see something like the 10,000’ (founded by Ben Pochee) at Parliament hill and it tells you that we were missing a trick before that came along. It is a great model that Highgate Harriers had put on!’
‘The BBC and the Channels rarely show distance events because they think it takes too long. In the past we would have seen the whole of a 10,000 which, clearly here at Parliament Hill, shows there is a strong interest by 4 to 5000 spectators to-day.’
‘The World is a different place. It is easy to say that when you get older. Everywhere you go you have got memories of how hard you trained. How difficult it was to win races because of the quality of the other British runners, never mind going international. If you ran in the ‘National' cross, you really had to be at the top of your game to win it

The ‘The Athletics Weekly’ rated you the best British cross-country runner in the history of the sport. Perhaps you could think of others like Gordon Pirie etc?
“There was nothing wrong with Ron Hill. There were so many household names that were racing cross-country. To get in that England team in the old World cross country Championships was not easy. You had to be a really quality athlete to make that team. There were probably 20 or 30 people fighting for a chance to get into the England team for the nine spots for selection.

Eric Shirley, the 1956 Olympic steeplechase finalist, when I asked him what he considered his most outstanding achievement. He did not come out with his AAA’s steeplechase wins but being in the teens in the National, that was how much it was prized in those days
“When I joined Shaftesbury Harriers in 1964 this was our headquarters at Parliament Hill and it was a black cinder track, when I came here for the first time to train.
It was a long time ago now!”

Alastair Aitken

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