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Karl Oparka: 'Up the Cleppie, doon the Blackie'

It was the days of the running boom.  Dave Roy was the founder of Dundee Roadrunners that had originally operated from Valentines card factory as a lunchtime exercise club (Valentineís Running Club).  I'd come up from the Durham area where I'd been a member of  Crook Athletic Club and had done all the road races around the North East of England, so I was looking for a club to join.  I worked in Dundee with Stuart Swanston who had joined already and he said to come along and try it.  By then it had been set up at Lochee Baths and the club already had its characteristic blue and white vest.


I remember debates about the vest being too close to the Hawks' vest and some said it would never catch on, but it's still the same.  There's always been a healthy rivalry with the Hawks; they were the original club in the area and had been there forever. They also had some extremely good runners.  I remember when John McInally passed the cups from the old Thistle Harriers Club on to the Dundee Roadrunners, and recall a particular club presentation that was challenged by some members of the the Hawks, claiming they were the rightful heirs to the Thistle Harriers trophies!


My lasting recollection of the club is coming along on a Tuesday night with Stuart.  Harry Kay was Chairman at the time, and Charlie Anderson used to stand on a chair and shout out the routes for the evening.  I hadn't a clue where the different roads were, and I couldn't follow his accent when I first arrived: 'Up the Cleppie, doon the Blackie, through Campie, roon by Cairdie.'  I was confused by the way he said 'Clatto' (pronounced without the "t"s) and had to ask Stuart where on earth this was.  In the end, I just used to follow the rest!  There was a fast pack and a medium group and Iíd try for all the life of me to hang onto the fast group.  In those days some members used to stay back and run with the beginners, and we all took turns to do this.  


It was all very sociable on club nights, people used to chat beforehand and everyone was interested in everyone elseís race times from the previous weekend.  Everybody wanted to compete then.  I was speaking with Wilma recently and she said that they're not racing as much these days.  Every weekend there used to be a race somewhere.  There was a very good group of runners and Bob Wood was probably the best; he was over 40 and competing very well as a vet.  The team was successful in races too, with Bob, Ged Hanlon, Ricky Davidson, and Stuart all counting in team races.  This was the main benefit to me, being pulled along by the fast runners.  The training sessions had a good competitive edge to them and a lot of people found their times improving.  There were quite a few good women runners then as well, Muriel Muir especially, and Margaret Robertson, Gill Hanlon and Sue Roger.


There was a long Sunday morning session that also left from Lochee , for those who wanted to do 20 miles or so.  We started the Templeton 10 race, and it still seems to be a very popular race.  The hill race used to start down at the hall in Auchterhouse, then from further up the hill.  And there were regular bus outings, particularly to the Inverness Half Marathon, where I ran my best half marathon time of 1.14.  I just went on a couple of them; we had the family and usually went by car.  There were also relay races with mixed teams of men, women and juniors who each ran a mile, and there was the fun run at Perth that was very popular.


A lot was happening on the social side as well, with good social events and a very friendly environment.  The dance was held every Christmas, often at Valentines, and we put together posters with photos of the runners for a recruitment drive.  Weíd have guest speakers like Don McGregor, former Olympic Marathon runner, and people could come along and get to know the club.  Dave Mulligan was one of the members very active on the social side, until he turned his attention to his business.  Dave Roy was the instigator and very active early on, but seemed to move off the scene quite quickly.  Eric Fair was one of the founders.  He was Treasurer for many years and when I became Chairman (after Harry) we used to rotate the meetings around the houses of the committee members, usually accompanied by tea, sandwiches and a blether.


By the time I arrived in Dundee, Harry and Charlie had already started a junior section on Wednesday nights, training at Caird Park.  To begin with theyíd go for a jog.  I went there around the time that my son Jonathan started running cross country.  The junior section really took off ñ it grew until there were about 30 kids there.  We decided we needed to give it more structure, so Harry, Charlie and I attended coaching courses and soon they were sprinting, hurdling and jumping as well.  A lot of kids were getting through to Grangemouth for open-graded competitions and some were doing really well, wanting to compete further.  We realised we didnít have an avenue for them unless DRR became registered as a distinct  athletics club, so they mostly ran as second claim for Tayside Athletics Club, which was  based at Arbroath.  There was maybe a bone of contention with the Hawks here also as many of the local youngsters we were coaching went on to compete for Tayside.  My sons went on to compete internationally in athletics, Jonathan competing for GB in the sprints and Richard for Scotland in throws events. Eventually, my own running became less important (and more time consuming), and all my efforts were shifted into coaching my two sons.


The surge of interest from youngsters had died away by then.  Those that were left joined the Hawks to get the competition. The Hawks were very successful at that time and were competing in Division 1 of the British league.  Stephen Peters who was one of the original juniors who is still running with the Roadrunners now.  I also used to coach Kenneth McLeod for several years and have enjoyed seeing his maintained interest in running.


I stayed with the Roadrunners for about 10 years but I began to compete less.  I felt Iíd done all the races and my times werenít as good any more, so I decided to call it a day.  The second Dundee Marathon was my best one, I ran 2:48 in the snow!  Probably these days people are running less to compete than they were 20 years ago.  If you took the top 20 times from a race in 1985 and compared them with today, I think youíd see how itís changed.  I ran the Templeton Woods race in 58 minutes , but I was beaten by Liz McColgan and a whole string of good club runners, finishing out of the top 20.  These days my times would place more highly ñ thereís usually one or two fast runners and then a big gap.  People are looking more to keep fit and maybe to socialise, so itís very different from the early days of the club when people were passionate about their PBs .


I enjoyed my time with DRR intensely. I am pleased to hear that there will be 25th Anniversary celebrations and look forward to catching up with some old (and some not so old) faces.



Karl Oparka - 30 April 2009


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