This series of articles, written by Stuart StJohn, was published in Valley Striders News between November 1992 and June 1993 in celebration of the tenth birthday of the Striders.
Late in 1981, I bumped into an old school mate (Micky) who had packed in cycling and taken up running. He had in his day been a ‘domestique’ for 5-times winner of 'Le Tour' Jacques Anquetil, so you can appreciate he was no slouch. He was also keen to succeed in his new sport and this came across at our meeting (appropriately at the Aarons at Carnegie where we were both spectating) where we enthused about running, and talked about trying to get a group together to promote the sport with a bias towards distance running, which no local club seemed to concentrate on. Micky's wife, Morin, was also keen to run and so he arranged for me to pop round to their house to meet her and between us to discuss plans.
Early in 1982, I called round, one Friday evening, on my way home from work, to find Micky and Morin poring over ‘Athletics Weeklies’. This became a regular habit for me and them, and we slowly created (in theory) a running club complete with constitution †, club colours (white - for long runs in hot weather), subscriptions, club rules and a dozen other items. All we needed now were members. So by the summer of that year the baby was near to being born in a house just off Woodhouse Ridge, next to the Meanwood Valley Trail. We'd kicked about all sorts of names to call it - it had to be different to Harriers or Athletic or Runners, and needed to incorporate the locality. What was it that Americans called runners? Got it! Just the name.
We pooled our resources of mates, friends and others who might be interested in joining us but alas it was only a handful. Micky had a pal that played in the band that he managed (which also contained Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame), by the name of Geoff (Webster), and I'd a pal who I trained with - Steve (Rock). Geoff knew Ray (Price) who knew Jez and so it went on.
I'd been told by Micky to watch out for a bloke seen often in Adel Woods (they can't touch you for it now!) who'd tagged on to Micky once or twice and was interested in joining. The bloke was obviously keen enough but only time would tell as apparently he'd run the first Leeds Marathon, and joined a bunch I was leading (yes I used to run), I'd been to busy chelping for 15 miles (bullshit) to notice him, and by the Leeds RLFC ground he'd felt the pace was too hot and I'm glad to say got stuffed. Turned out the chap's name was Hopson! (I've a photo and the result sheet to prove it).
There were two other lads who figured in the top three in that race; one wearing the colours of West Yorks Police would have won but for a pit-stop when leading and so finished second, the other from Bingley Harriers hung on to the leaders as long as possible and finished third. Both later became Club members...
† Editor's note 1992: As soon as I saw the word 'Constitution' I knew this must
be a complete work of fiction.
† Editor's note 1997: on leaving for Scotland in 1993/4, Stuart left me with all the original paperwork of the Striders, including a Constitution!
Throughout the summer of '82 I continued to visit Micky and Morin of a Friday evening to discuss the latest tactics on distance running; what drinks we should take, pre-race preparation, interval training (the usual crap!). The three of us were so involved that I could have told you the clubs of most English top athletes, Morin knew all the colours and Micky could reel off ‘splits’ like nobody. When we went out training you could set your watch by him and listen to me and Morin chelping athletics.
Anyway, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, we decided that I would be Secretary (I was the only one with a phone), Micky would be treasurer, and Morin captain and other member! A meeting was called to summon any new recruits. I seem to recall less than 10 at that meeting, we would have been one more but Mr Hopson forgot / couldn't find the address so went back home. There were a few of the “I think we shoulds”, a lot of enthusiasm, and everybody was sworn in. By December, we were still only 12 strong. Advertisements were put in shops at Headingley and Woodhouse to try and attract the student population. Nothing resulted. Into ‘83 still with no success both member-wise and results-wise. We were ticking over but didn't seem to be going anywhere. Then a Club first - the first Over-40 Vets at Kippax 1/2 marathon (modesty prevents me from naming myself!)
On most Sundays, when not racing, we did the old L.S.D run which has not changed much in route over the last 10 years. From Smithy Mills we'd go over 7 Arches, across the golf course, bang round the Res', over Harewood grounds, onto Arthington bottom and up Creskeld, through Golden Acre, Adel Church, and back to home base at Smithy. They were bloody tremendous runs. Originally we set off at 11 a.m. but due to rows with spouses, falling asleep after lunch and being too knackered to take the family out, we thought bringing the time forward to 10 a.m. might help (how I know not and did it hell as like work). It's still the same though boys and girls isn't it? "Don't you fall asleep in the bath" and "If you think these running shoes are staying in here stinking the place out, then think again" are words we've all heard countless times.
Well getting back to my story; this particular Sunday I was out running on my own with Micky pacing me on the bike. I'd done the circuit and decided to go up Arthington Bank (you know: the one that feels like you are running up the side of a house). There was this bloke about 300yards (poetic licence) in front of me. Micky tells me to go get him, and that he's going to cycle up Creskeld and expects to see me stuffing this runner by 5 Lane Ends. Well I catch this bloke and boy was he struggling. I told him I was doing a timed session (just for show) and that I'd wait for him at the top, and then left him for dead. He joined me and we continued running and talking. Found out he ran for 'the Bobbies'. I said I knew by name a chap called Steve O'Callaghan who'd finished 2nd in the Leeds Marathon the previous October. "That's me" says he. Need I say more. Yet another scalp. We arranged to meet the following Sunday and eventually after several weeks he said he wanted to join us.
Coincidence or not, after that the Club began to take off and people started to notice us. If I could single out a l00o running club athlete who one sensed enjoyed running with you and who in return it was a pleasure to run with, I would look no further than Mr. O'Call. Mr Hopson I know (because I bullshitted him) set his stall out to be as good as if not better than Steve O. It shows it can be done if you've got the perfect role model.
As we slowly started to pick up prizes, so the Club grew. On one of out Wharfedale Sunday runs we'd bumped into a bloke out training wearing the Bingley vest. A few weeks later he was one of us, and I'll go on record as saying that if you're looking for the athlete who's done it all, then look no further than Leggo (from Boy National team winner to great marathon times!). The unfortunate thing in having him join us was that we were then subjected to several of his "Sunday Tours". These involved anything from wandering about in dense fog atop Norwood Edge to trampling through dense undergrowth above Arthington Tunnel and pea-shooting the Harrogate to London Inter-City train.
At this stage, as you will have gathered, we were still a very laid back club (“So what's new” I hear you ask!). Our H.Q. was under the oak tree at the foot of Smithy Mills, and all our long distance training was doing the nice Sunday steady 18/20 miler. We nearly always stayed together as a pack, cracking jokes and telling stories, and if people dropped off the pace we would just jog at the top of hills until they'd caught up, then get them in the middle of the pack and coax them along. Hopefully there wasn't too much suffering, witness they would be back for some more same time next week! To help everybody, especially in hot weather, Leggo used to hide water bottles in the bus shelter at the bottom of Creskeld Lane on a Saturday evening!! I'll bet that doesn't happen now.
Lasting impressions of training with the Striders tends to centre round our infamous Sunday Tours. They seemed to be the high point of one's running for any specific week. If truth be known it always seemed (in my opinion I hasten to add) an intrusion on my athletic life whenever I had to perform at some race or other, and always a pleasure to get back to Sunday Wharfedale, summer or winter.
During weekly 'reccies' our scouts had found a quarry with a Caribbean setting of golden sand and turquoise coloured water (you'd better believe it cos' it's a fact). As luck would have it we had one of the hottest summers for 30 years about this time and so our Sunday runs took on a new look. We would run the main part of the course, then divert into the quarry and skinny dip for about 15 minutes in lovely warm water, dry off within 10 mins without towels!, then on with shoes shorts and vests and continue the run down to Golden Acre and eventually home! If there had been somebody on hand with camera or camcorder it could have been rather unfortunate trying to explain to outsiders - let alone spouses - what we were all doing!! It became more Triathlon training than Marathon training and it was noticeable that the pace seemed to quicken within a mile of the pool so that the quicker you were into the water, the longer you had!
I apologise for going on about the L.S.D. runs, but looking back on them, they were certainly the backbone on which the Striders were built and as such deserve more than a mention. And if the subject comes up again in later newsletters, you'll appreciate why.
When we first began our L.S.D runs they were very mundane road plodding affairs with a handful of guys doing the same route every Sunday morning. To try and liven things up I decided to take odd days holiday and walk, with the aid of a 1:25000 map and some trough, the hidden byways around the Res, Harewood Park, Cookridge, Golden Acre and Wharefdale, working out alternative runs that we could cover in 2 hours. So although you boys and girls may think it's all plain sailing now, and yes, the 'Drovers' and others have always been there, there was a time, pre green public footpath signs, when I was chased / questioned / cursed by irate landowners and tenant farmers wanting to know if I knew I was trespassing. (You would not believe how much easier it is to run/walk over Scottish land where the trespass law does not apply the same as in England). So the runs got established (others have been added since by club members) both for Sundays and for Tuesday nights at Leos.
Old Leos came into the frame back in the mid 80's because 'Rocky' (one of our original 12) played cricket for them. In the time we have been at Crag Lane, they have been excellent landlords and other than the fact that our ladies don't have the facilities, it is now established as the Valley Striders HQ. It's ideal for the summer runs but it is a shame that more members don't take advantage of the deal we have which enables anybody to go up and use the bar etc on any night of the week!
There have been some good do's at Leos, smoky barbecues to Xmas Dinners, and who can forget, the 50 odd of us who on 24/9/85 ran with Charlie Spedding. What a great night, we must all have 'stuffed' him according to the talk afterwards.
Something to remember - did you know that I collected over 10,000 20pences in 7 years with my little black book. That was a task I really enjoyed, especially the cajoling for the brass, and some of the comments and excuses you would not believe!!
The summer evening run from the Club stands out: through the wood, over the Golf Course, round the Res’, Eccup Moor Road, and then everybody for themselves (stuff or be stuffed is the motto). Hang in up Blackmoor Lane, keep them in sight down Kings Road, and shut your eyes and pray down to Golden Acre. Ouch! But once past Adel Church, and then trying a sneaky one up Stairfoot before anyone realised, and then it was all over, and if you'd managed to stay with them and the eyeballs were still intact all well and good. If you'd dropped off the pace then you were saving it for Sunday's race but also waiting for next week! God, I've suffered on that Tuesday run, but I've nearly always enjoyed it, and I've a gut feeling that I've made one or two people suffer in return. Those certainly were the days (and nights) my friends.