Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Bernard Plain MBE (March 2011)

Bernie Plain, I have always found a very likable Welshman over the many years I have known him. He still holds the UK 20 miles record of 1:40:34.6. His best  5000 was 13:38.6 but his 28:14.0 is even more I impressive over 10,000 which he did in 1975. He was the last person to win a AAA's 10 mile title in 48:25.8 in 1972. After that year the AAA's 10 mile event was never held again. Trevor Wright, Ron Hill and Me Batty were the three previous holders.of the title. The first AAA's race over 10 miles was in 1880!
   Regarding his UK 20 mile record he said "I did that in the Middle of Winter before I went to the Commonwealth Games in 1974.I tried to go for the World record and Jack Foster had done 12 seconds faster than I did but I was 15 seconds faster than Jim Alders' British record."
   For a number of years he worked for Cardiff City Council before opening his Sports shop.
He was born on the 3rd of December 1946. He is married to Thelma and has two sons Andrew and Richard. His Grandfather ran in the Powderhall sprint and organised events to.
    We talked in the 'Officials' tent at the World Trials/Inter-Counties cross country Championships near Birmingham on 5th of March.
   Bernie Plain started running in 1962/63. He had a young friend at the time called Dave Walsh, who later became an organiser and statitistician of Welsh athletics. It was Walsh who suggested to Bernie that he compete in the youth club sports
   " I said I had never done anything, 'What would he like me to do?. He said the 440. I picked the outside lane on a grass track and I ran a 57 seconds and he remarked that I could run!. I then became interested in athletics and did it in the Summer and football in the winter for a couple of years. In the club Jack Collard said to me that if I did a good cross country season I could become really good. I then packed up the football and in my first year I made the Welsh Junior team for the International cross country. I saw Mel Batty run in the senior race and thought he had won the race but they gave the verdict to the Frenchman Fayolle. It was at Ostend and I was about tenth from last in the junior race which was a  shock to me, as I had won everything going into that event when I ran but, I had been put in the team and, I was still only a youth.'
   'Over the years I had very few injuries which made a lot of difference and I carried on and kept training and improved year by year. I was able to run 120 miles a week"


" Birchgrove and Roath amalgamated and it became Cardiff in 1968 and as you know they are now a World famous club and have been on the map. I was privileged to run for Cardiff in their hay day. I remember running for Great Britain 'B' team and 13 members of the Cardiff club were in the 'B' team, that was the depth we had. I was given life membership and been President of the club."
   I wondered was there anything that stood out as being  special in his athletic career over the years?
   " My first thing was winning Welsh titles. I won the Welsh 5000m in 1968, 69 and 1970. 1970 was the Commonwealth Games. I was picked for the 5000 and 10,000. Lachie Stewart won from Ron Clarke and Dick Taylor in  the 10,000 and I finished 11th. The stupid thing was, not being experienced enough. I tried to break the field half way through. I finished 11th which was a long way back, bearing  in mind nearly everybody was still together with 200 left to do. I broke John Merriman's Welsh record of 28:52 that he did in the Rome Olympics of 1960 with a time of 28.51.You asked me about something special that was something special."
   ' In 1971 I ran my first marathon. It was the Maxol marathon in Manchester. I was in the lead with Ron Hill and Trevor Wright with 3 miles to go and I blew up completely. I was in the European team one minute and then out of it the next.
It was my first marathon though. (Bernie Plain ended up 20th in 2:19.38-Ron Hill won in 2:12.39 and Trevor Wright was 2nd in 2:13.27.)
   27th of May 1972 was the Olympic Trials for the marathon in Manchester and it was won by Germany's Lutz Phillip in 2:12.50, just one second ahead of Ron Hill. Here Bernie came 7th in 2:16.18. He takes up the story
   " Again I blew up. It was in 1973 I got my head round it competitively and was 4th in the Boston Marathon (2:21.01). I was pleased with that result but I never classed myself as an 'Out and Out' marathon runner Alastair.
   ' My first Great Britain match was in 1973. I had run 13:38 in Helsinki and did not expect to do that and, was then picked for Great Britain against East Germany in 1973. Jurgen Haase won the race for East Germany. Even though I did a 56 for the last lap Haase ran a 53!. You could not live with anybody like that. Unbelievable. 25 seconds for the last 200 off a '28 pace'. I had run 'B' Internationals before that.'


        It was July the 13th 1973 in the evening at Crystal Palace in the AAA' 10,000m. I had been tipped off by Mike Beevor, at the beginning of the week, (who ended up running in that race) that his friend Dave would break the World Record the coming Friday and so he did by 7.6 seconds. He ran 27:30.8 with Tony Simmons running 28:01.8, Benie Plain next in 28:28 and the Finn Seppo Tuominen doing 28:32 in fourth place.
   ' That day was an unbelievable experience. It was amazing. I will never forget it. Only myself, Tony Simmons and Seppo Touminen from Finland stayed with him and he took us away from the rest of the field. I ran through 3000 in 8.7 and 5000 in 13:50 and I stayed with him. Seppo Touminen dropped off but Simmons stayed another lap with Bedford, who lapped the whole field except the four of us! I managed 28:28 .I thought I could have stayed back with pack but I put my cards on the table and I managed to hang on and I got third.. When I talk about my career I think it was a privilege to be involved in a World record. That was an incredible experience.'
    I did my first of 22 marathons in the Poly and AAA's marathon at Windsor in 1974 and, I can remember how hot it was with steam coming off the road in Windsor Great Park. Half  the field dropped out during the race. The rule then of not  being able to take water in the early stages of the race was still in force then! However, Bernie Plain came second in that in 2:18.32. Akio Usami of Japan was first in 2:15.6 and Eckhard Lesse of East Germany was 3rd in 2:18.44 and Bob Sercombe 4th in 2:19.52. Another hot day came in the European Championships in Rome on the 8th of September 1974 and the first four were Ian Thompson 2:13.8, 2 Eckhard Lesse 2:14:57.4; 3 Gaston Roelants 2:16:29.6 and 4 Bernie Plain 2:18:02.02
   ' I was disappointed to come fourth that day in Rome and not get a medal, particularly if you look back and think I was ranked 10th in the World that year. Gaston was third in Rome and I was closing on him but could not get to him. He used to drop out quite often and I was praying for him to drop out but he never did.'
   Bernie  was competitive as a veteran at 40 and 41!
" I won the British veterans' title for 10k at 40 and 41 and, at 41, also came third in the 1500 final'


" It was a complete shock to me when the letter arrived on my door step, just before Christmas. I did not know I had even been nominated and I could not understand why I should be given it but my wife said 'Look Bernard you have has 48 years in the sport. You have managed the British Team for nine years. You were 10 years in the British team. What they have done is look at your overall career but I kept saying ''Why me' . People say' Don 't you think like that Bernard'. I am gob smacked, honoured and delighted. Of all the people who have helped me over the years my coach Dave Williams, who is dead now, would have been so proud for me to have an MBE for services to the sport. It is such a great honour.
Bernard always seems to love the sport!,
" I love it and still in love with the sport. If I could still do 100 mile a week I would do it! I love running. It is just a shame that  the British distance  running is not quite as great as it used to be but there are youngsters coming up like in the Inter-Counties today. There have been some great races here and great things for the future. There is Farah too. I have made so many friendships in the sport.'
   Where then has he enjoyed running most?
"In Helsinki through the woods. Places like that. I remember going to Norway with Phil Banning and training for an hour and a half . He was cursing me because I could not stop running through the beautiful woods. I have run in practically every country and either raced or managed the British team."

Alastair Aitken

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