Copyright 2021 - Dundee Roadrunners

Jane (Carroll) O'Neill - May Day!

A weak morning sun and a light westerly wind made conditions near-perfect on Sunday 13th May 1990, as runners massed on Nethergate for the 8th Dundee Marathon ñ the first in the new decade.† Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Stephen Hendry the World Snooker Champion and Aberdeen had just won the Scottish Cup. 


Around 9.00 am, with my breath still white in the cool morning air, I was doing some light stretching near the start when I saw Peter and Liz McColgan walk up Crichton Street.  Liz and Peter were both running in the 10K which Peter went on to win. Liz, being 3 months pregnant jogged around in under 37 minutes!  Dundee was in the grip of running fever and some of its greatest runners had dutifully turned out to support the most popular events in the local running calendar.


There was an impressive line-up from Dundee Road Runners: Bob Woods, who went on to finish 2nd male in a superb time of 2.29.17, John Kirkland, Neil Duthie, Ricky Davidson, Jimmy Fraser, Margaret Robertson, and Danny Reilly, whose words of encouragement, "Go for it Jane!" would bear fruit later that morning when I completed the race with a personal best of 3.10.05. 


The black bags and faded sweatshirts had been discarded at the kerbside, and as we walked to the Start, the old familiar knot in the stomach gripped tightly as the Piper tuned us to the start-line.  The pungent smell of liniment was all around as we carried out our final stretches.  The race was fired off at 9.30 am on the dot!


Distance runners are well aware of the importance of economy in the early stages of the marathon, and this race was no exception.† I like to call this early part of the race the phoney war! At the ten-mile mark on Riverside, chatter, laughter and high waves to the crowd were aplenty, but with a mile to the finish it was toothy grins, grimaces and limp wrists that were being offered to spectators on Lochee Road!


The race for me however was shaping well. I had settled into a comfortable pace and was surrounded with a pack of like-minded runners as we cruised along like bombers in formation: we were on a mission.† I was happy with my position in the race and had my own thoughts and race plan.† Although female runners in blue, green and yellow vests were beginning to pass me I had no inclination to follow suit.† It is always a relief to reach the halfway point and just when I thought I was still fresh: Ouch! - the first real hill hit home. The phoney war is over; the race now begins in earnest.† Any latent injury could flare up and put paid to your race plan, or perhaps the first signs of fatigue kick in. I was beginning to wish I had followed Charlie Anderson's advice (DRR), more hills, more long runs - more miles!


The coloured vests I was tracking were now coming back to me (as we say in running parlance) and slowly I picked them off one by one.† Runners who were eager to cover ground quickly in the early stages of the race were now paying the price.


The route of the Dundee Marathon, like most city marathons tracks it way through built-up areas and this ensures a good turnout of spectators at points in the race when encouragement is as vital as taking drinks on board. Dundee's love affair with running was evident by the tremendous support on its streets. Also, there was never a shortage of marshalls giving up their time voluntarily to help in these great events.


At 16 miles I turned to face the hill at Frederick Street.† Flashing lights at the top of hill distracted me for a moment and broke my concentration, until I saw Charlie Haskett's (Hawkhill Harriers) face leaning out the side window of a car.


"Tuck in behind us Jane, and we'll take you home!" he called.


This was the lead car with the second timer blinking away; and it was waiting for me! I was the leading lady. As the realisation sank in, I ran behind the car as though connected to it by an umbilical cord! Nothing and no one could come between me and that car! But, there were still 10 gruelling miles to go: up the wobbly cobbles of Hospital Street that has caused many a runner agonising injuries, through the desolate Dryburgh industrial estate, and on to the oasis of Lochee† This was the most emotional moment of the race for me. I could hear Willie Thomson (DRR) shouting my name before I saw him, as he waited on the High Street with my family to welcome the runners into the heart of Lochee. Of course, Davy, Frances and Bert from the "Baths" were out on the street to cheer on the runners, as did the late John Quinn from Dundee Runner (his shop then on the opposite side of the road from where the current shop now stands).


Visiting runners to the Dundee Marathon must have been delighted to find that the last two miles of the race are downhill, and I was as pleased as anyone on that day. At the bottom corner of Lochee Road the small figure of a blonde woman caught my eye. This was a friend of mine who was being treated at the Cancer Unit in DRI and who would receive the sponsorship raised from my race for the Unit.† Sadly she died several months later.


As the saying goes: The Show isn't Over 'til the Fat Lady Sings! Disaster struck† A DRR blue and white vest (Margaret Robertson) appeared on my left-hand side at the Marketgait circle, and the sheer fright at being caught with less than a mile to go caused a rush of adrenalin to flood through my veins. Danny's words rang in my ears, "Go for it, Jane" and the pain screamed through my muscles as I lifted the pace and turned onto Marketgait. I knew if I could get to Nethergate I would sprint to the Finish or die trying. I tried to turn to see how much of a lead I had, but my neck and shoulders were locked tight so I kept my eyes on the Finish and ran for dear life. The lead car swerved off to the right as I entered the Nethergate and I completed the last few hundred yards on my own. The crowds lining the funnel to the Finish spurred me on and I sprinted to the Finish to split the tape. 


After a quick sponge down and a drink, I walked out of the marquee into the May sunshine: a proud Dundee Road Runner and a very happy First Lady!


There are hundreds of success stories from Dundee Road Runners: this is only one of them.

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