Welcome to a new On the Run series called My Greatest Race (So Far), where Scottish club members recount the most exciting race of their running careers. For the first story in the series, I talk with Scottish life-member Bob Stephens, who shares with me his appearance in the mile at the 1966 Melbourne Interclub Final.
The race was the culmination of the season for four competing clubs, with teams of three runners each, competing for the interclub title at Melbourne’s Olympic Park. Bob was running for Old Scotch, against famous Melbourne clubs Waverly, University and Melbourne High School Old Boys.
Interclub races were huge in Melbourne at that time.
“Grades went down to D grade from memory, with 12 teams in a grade, and to get points for the club, one had to run under a qualifying time. From vague memory, it was a 5.20 minutes for the mile for B grade,” says Bob.
“I was in the B grade team until one of the A grade runners tripped on the start line and could not run.”
He was suddenly promoted to the A grade race.
“I looked at the eleven other runners on the start line, which included Ron Clarke (who, during his career, broke 17 world records, won an Olympic bronze medal and 4 Commonwealth Games silver medals), Ralph Doubell (soon to be 1968 Olympic 800m gold medalist), Trevor Vincent (1962
Commonwealth Games steeplechase gold medalist), Tony Cook (1964 Olympian), and two other national champions.”
Laconically, Bob tells me he didn’t think he should go with the pace at the start of the race.
“I let the others go.”
This was wise because the first lap was under 60 seconds.
“All I can remember is: ‘this is way too fast’, but I had continue on while the others disappeared into the distant horizon.”
As the race unfolded, and his breathing got deeper and legs started to tie up, Bob’s thoughts were; “If I am not careful I will collapse”.
“But being cheered on by all and sundry helped, as they had seen what had happened at the beginning.”
After first lap the pace clearly did not let up because Doubell won the mile in 3:54.
And six other runners also broke four minutes that day.
The runner in second-to-last place ran 4:07 for the mile – a time that would have ranked top-ten for the entire year in New Zealand last year – and behind him, in last place, Bob proudly says he lost by the length of the finishing straight.
And ran his fastest ever mile in 4:24.
Bob says there was a shake of hands at the end.
“They had already got their breath pack. And then the others went for a warm down while I went for a sit-down – or maybe lie-down. But I was more than thrilled with the outcome when I saw the time. Very stiff the next morning.”
A month later Bob went overseas, travelling with two others by Land Rover from Mumbai in India, to Kathmandu, Darjeeling, Delhi to Pakistan, up the Khyber Pass to Kabul, across the centre of Afghanistan (“People would not do that these days, even though there were camel trains with suspicious cargo and Russian tanks”), and into Iran.
The six day war with Israel broke out as he was about to cross into Iraq, so detoured through Turkey and thence to the UK for six years.
Bob says he did little running done there, though.
“But I had tried to run at about 4000 metres in Nepal and Afghanistan, with predictable results.”