Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Dave Clarke (The Great Runner from Hercules Wimbledon)

Besides running in Mob Matches for South London Harriers, when I was 40 (1980) to my mid-50's, my first claim club has always been Highgate Harriers and besides track, I did the first nineteen London's under their banner but it always seemed to me that cross country was the most appealing side of the sport to do. I found Tony Simmons, the international from Luton, had that same philosophy.
   I have seen many great cross-country runners competing on Hampstead Heath, very near where I lived since the early 1950's, but one who did catch my eye was the 'Abominable Snowman' Tim Johnston, the Cambridge University runner who, in 1963, won the British Universities, Southern and Inter-Counties in the snow. It was the year that renowned fighter Roy Fowler beat Gaston Roelants, the Olympic steeplechase Champion of 1964. That was in the International cross-country in Spain. If I had to narrow it down to just one person as being the most durable competitor and for longevity it would be Dave Clarke.
   Dave Clarke is now 51 and has lost none of his enthusiasm, despite his length of time in the sport. He ran 2:45.45 for a marathon and 77:24 for a half marathon only last year in 2010 but let us look back through the years and I will punctuate most of his record with some names I am sure many will have heard of!
   In 1977 he made the International Junior team  (National result:- 1 Nat Muir, 30:21 and 7 Dave Clarke 31:05; The next year 1978 1 Nicky Lees 29:28, 2 Mick Morton 29:55 and 3 Dave Clarke 29:58;
1979 he was 16h in the Senior race; 1980 12th, then in 1981 he was 2nd. About the latter, his coach John Sullivan had said to him that he should treat the race just as another Surrey League and go for it!' That was a big booster for Clarke who had that breakthrough into the 'Big' time of cross country running.He finished ahead of Mick McLeod, Steve Jones and Dave Moorcroft. The winner by a wide margin on the day at Parliament Hill Fields was Julian Goater, much to the surprise of his clubmate Dave Bedford.
   It was 1982 when Dave Clarke was 24 that he had his first National win, going away from Mike McLeod on the hill in the latter stages at Roundhay Park, Leeds. (1 Clarke 42:19; 2 Hugh Jones 42:33; 3 Mick McLeod 42:41).
In the World cross country Championships Mohammed Kedir won from Alberto Salazar, Rod Dixon, Kunze, McLeod and Dave Clarke came ninth.
   In 1983 at Gateshead in the World Cross Country Championships Clarke was easily the first UK runner in seventh place overall.
It was 1985 at Milton Keynes, in deep mud, Dave Lewis won from Dave Clarke in the National senior event.
In 1986 it was Tim Hutchings who won (He was twice second in the World Cross Country Championships).The race was over a snowy surface at Town Moor. He was  followed home by Dave Clarke, (who was reputed to have a cold), Eamonn Martin, Mick McLeod and Tony Milovsorov.
   In 1987 Clarke was back again winning the National at Luton in 47:04; from Steve Binns 47:18 and Roger Hackney 47:46.
In 1988 the selection criteria was changed and no longer the 'National' was the selection race but although that concerned Clarke greatly, he still went on and ran the 'National' at Newark that year and won well with Dave Lewis second.
   Something worth noting is that the last time GB won medals in the World Cross Country was in 1992 when they took team silver medals and who was in the scoring team none other than Dave Clarke.
       As the years rolled on most people would lose their zest for tough competition but not Dave Clarke who was fighting hard in the World Trials of 1995. (1 Spenser Duval 2 Dave Clarke 3 Keith Cullen).
   I went up to Lloyd Park in 1997 to see the Surrey League race and Dave, the 6 foot tall, blond haired runner, wearing his famous yellow and red Hercules Wimbledon strip and, on hardly anything approaching half of his racing diet of 100 miles a week plus having retired from the International competition was there racing it out. He waived to me as he went by and up the famous hill in Lloyd Park and came home  a relaxed third.Mike Simpson was the winner on the day.
   Rather than going on extolling the virtues of Dave Clarke the cross country runner, let us see what some of his results on the road and country say and even in those fields he was quite explosive.
I remember him running some storming legs in the Imperial Colleges, Hyde Park, road relay for Borough Road College (West London Institute of HE). That race was considered then an 'Unofficial European Colleges road relay Championship'
In 1988 he took Borough Road from 5 to 2 on Lap 4 in 13:22 and it was the year Hugh Jones, running for Liverpool Uni set the 'All Time' Hyde Park record of 13:12.
   On the Hercules Wimbledon Club website Dave Clarke's times head the lists in many cases which includes 22:37 for 5 miles; 47:25 for 10 miles; 62:11 for a half marathon and in Stockholm in 1989 he ran 2:13:34. (Remember the Holts' and Mike Beevor were members of that club).
   Now for the track:- 5k 13:22.54; 3:39.27 for 1500 and 27:55.77 for 10k. The latter on May 25th, 1982 in Florence ahead of Henry Rono, Martii Vainio and Alberto Cova.
   A mile inside 4 minutes is still considered an excellent time for the vast majority of athletes and Clarke ran 3:56.That was in a match versus the USA at Crystal Palace " I was second to Richie Harris. That was good fun as it was a distance runners' mile, where with 200 to go I looked round and with a look of quiet smugness at most of the people around me. It was a race for 'A' standard milers (Not for people like Coe) who suddenly found themselves with Barry Smith, Geoff Smith and myself, who were all there with 200 metres to go. We all looked at each other and said, "Right, we can sort out a few of these milers here!"
'There were a lot of 5 or 10k boys who ran sub-4 minutes or around that time that night."
   Dave Clarke was born 1st of January 1958 in London and in his days has been the Manager or the British cross country team. His two brothers Chris and Peter have been good runners. Peter has run a lot over many years for the same club. Dave Clarke was educated at Dulwich Prep and St Pauls public school so with that in mind it was interesting to see how someone with that sort of background could necessecaairly be able take on the best on the cross country scene
I wanted to find that out and certainly from the facts it was quite evident. He was at Borough Road before becoming a history and PE Teacher. Before that he worked on building sites, grass cutting jobs and was a hospital porter.
   He explains " When I left school I worked  in a terminal hospital al for nine months. It was a great leveller for me, as  the second day I was there I had to carry out a dead body from a bed onto the trolley.
   ' I had never seen a dead body before. I was dealing with characters in hospital, where patients go to finish their life. Some of the younger people went in because they had been in traffic accidents.
   As a history student you had to have imagination, and I always enjoyed history and as it was a National Health Hospital attached to the Jewish Home for Rest, a lot of people had  been through the Second World War.
   If you  talked to them and had read Ann Frank's Diary one thought , How bloody lucky you were to have got what you had in life."  It taught me a lot about life

Alastair Aitken

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