Clevedon’s Boxing Day road race, by tradition, has always been a focal point for the area’s distance runners both past and present, none more so than long-standing course record holder Ian Gillespie.
Gillespie, now 43 and happily settled for the last 11 years as a senior property manager in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife Elizabeth and their young adopted son Ewan, made his first appearance as a veteran a winning one in this year’s race and still managed to finish in the top six of the 869 finishers.
His name is already etched in the history of the Clevedon club’s popular event, for he first broke the record for the 4 mile course nearly 20 years ago and improved it in three consecutive years to the current mark of 18;28 in 1997.
At the time he was at the peak of his international career and he still ranks as second only to Nick Rose as Bristol’s most successful distance runner ever on the track, having competed in World, European and Commonwealth championships and recorded an impressive array of personal bests at 1500m (3:39). Mile (3:57); 3000m (7:48), and 5000m (13:18).
He also ran the first four minute miles in Exeter and Salisbury, records that still stand, while an interesting anecdote for any of today’s distance runners who use the specially designed mile round the Aztec West trading estate for training is that he set a remarkable time of 4:05.4 for the undulating circuit when winning an invitation mile race there…
“Just try it some time,” he challenges jokingly.
Back home in Bristol for the first time in four years to visit his parents for Christmas and New Year, Gillespie readily recalls the special place the Clevedon race had always had for him when he was competing internationally in the 90’s.
“We used the race as a midwinter measure of how my training was going, while the cash bonus for breaking the record was admittedly always an added incentive,” admitted Gillespie.
He stopped competing seriously when he settled in the States in 2002 to concentrate on his business career, but has never given up running.
“I still run most days, but to be honest I only train as hard as I need to be competitive locally, but since turning 40 I get a real buzz out of beating most of the younger runners in local races!” he adds.
“Even so the one thing I particularly like about masters racing is the lack of tension and rivalry that is always there when you are competing at the top level.
“I must say though that I was surprised to discover that I am top of the UK Masters V40 rankings this year for 3000m (8:42) and 5000m (15:11) as the 5000m time was recorded in wicked conditions.”
On reflection he has few regrets in what was a model career in terms of regular and uninterrupted progression from winning his first English Schools 1500m silver medal onwards.
His only lament is that what he feels was his best ever race when he ran 13:18 over 5000m in Belgium back in 1997 ironically produced the biggest disappointment of his career.
“It lifted me to second on the UK rankings that year, and though I had also finished third in the trials I was controversially left out of the World championship team.”
So finally why does he think that his course record has not even been approaches in recent years?
“I have already mentioned what a significant role it had in my training programme, but I feel another reason is that the continuing commercialisation of road running with the ever increasing proliferation of races has really diluted standards as the top runners in any area don’t race each other so often.”
“I must say in conclusion how delighted I am to see that Bristol has finally got the two tracks it deserves and that my club Bristol and West has really established itself as a national force.”