Saturday 31 December 2022

Heather Robinson - British and Irish Cross-Country International


For over 40 years Heather Robinson has been racing against the clock, however, her latest outing had her sweating on making it to the start line after taking a flight, jumping into a taxi then legging it for around a mile before putting her racing gear on with just 10 minutes to spare.

The occasion was the Masters’ British and Irish Cross-Country International in Santry Demesne Park, Dublin which saw the Jarrow and Hebburn athlete receiving a late call-up to the England squad for the Ireland event.

It took a while to catch up with Heather after her return as she always seemed to be out on a training run but eventually we managed to meet up where the full story of her race against time unfolded.

Heather with Alexis Dodd

So, in Heather’s own words here goes:

I ran the Trials but unfortunately I didn’t get selected for the over-60 team after finishing in fifth place so I was named as first reserve which was disappointing really. Afterwards, I was asked if I would still travel as I could run in the Open Race which was separate from the International contest, but I quickly gave it some thought and decided to decline for It would have been quite expensive to book a flight to Ireland and arrange accommodation just to run in the Open Race so after saying no I then put in an entry for the Heaton 10k which was to take place the same weekend albeit on the Sunday.

However, late on the Wednesday, two days before the InternationaI, I received a call from the Masters’ team management saying someone had dropped out of the over-55 team so would I consider stepping into the breach. Well, I was taken aback really, so I asked for a bit time to think about it and would get back to them. Anyway, Geoff (her husband) said ‘go for it’ so I then set the wheels in motion to sort out some travel arrangements and while booking a flight was relatively easy it was later that the problems arose.

The flight was on the day of the race was supposedly to leave Newcastle Airport at 8:45 but sod’s law it took off 30 minutes late and with my race scheduled for 11:50 I knew it was going to be touch-and-go to get there in time. The plane landed at 10:45 so I dashed through the airport and quickly got into a taxi and told the driver where I wanted to be and as quicky as possible.

The course, which was on the outskirts of Dublin is huge and no traffic was allowed so the taxi pulled up around a mile away from the start and the race headquarters so it was an almighty dash which, happily, I used as my warm up!

Thankfully, I was met by Alexis (Dodd) who was also competing in a different age group and had taken my spikes the previous day as I couldn’t carry them onto the plane so she had put them in her luggage in the hold which I was certainly grateful for.

I got to the England headquarters 10 minutes before the race was due to start and picked up my vest, I was exhausted even before we set off, I had no idea of the course, whether it was muddy, flat or hilly but once the gun went I thought to myself “well I’ve made it so just go out do your best and try to enjoy the occasion” and that’s what I did and surprisingly, after dropping down an age group I managed to be third counter for the team and we finished second so I was over the moon after all the problems in just getting to the start line so, in the end, it proved to be all worthwhile.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the presentation and dinner, which is a huge part of the event, as I had booked a flight home later in the day which certainly wasn’t as complicated as the journey 12 hours earlier. 

So, in the end, the trip to Dublin turned out to be not so bad after all and while the whole experience was exhausting I was really, really happy with the way everything turned out in the end.

Athletes line up for the British Masters International XC

2022 Masters International Cross Country Championships Medal

That wasn’t the end of the story though for Heather decided to change her footwear the following day and line up in the Heaton Memorial 10k on Newcastle Town Moor and she showed no signs at all of weariness and duly came out on top to claim the over-60 first prize!

While Heather is still making her mark as a Masters’ athlete she was a star in her own right early in her career notably winning the North Eastern Cross-Country title on a tough course in 1988.

Heather on her way to winning the North Eastern XC Champs 1988

Ten years later the World Masters’ came to the North East where she finished third overall in the 10k cross-country at Chester-le-Street - w35 Bronze.

Five days later Heather followed that up by tackling her first-ever 10,000 metres on the track and came fifth - Lynne Marr followed her home in sixth place.

To cap an exhausting week Heather then tackled the marathon where she finished sixth overall but was second in the over-35 category, for a World's Silver medal.

That was over two decades ago and the pull of the sport is still as great as ever.

That has been Heather’s dedication to athletics for well over 40 years and while she may be not be as quick now the enthusiasm is still as great as ever and well may it continue for many years to come.

By Bill McGuirk

Photos: Michael McNally

World Masters 1999 results available here

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