1985 was shaping up to be a great year for me. I was 23 years old and finally seemed to be getting my drinking under control through my athletics and my increasing interest in taking my education to another level. Early in the year, I had a conversation with someone who worked for the Leicestershire Education Department that was destined to change my life completely. Following a road race relay, I had to run two legs as my team only had 2 members instead of 3, we were relaxing in the Leicestershire County Council Staff Social Club and I was informed that, although I had been working for 6 years, I would still be entitled to a full grant to study at university. Back in 1985 there were no student loans, the fees were paid in full and you got a decent grant to cover basic living costs. On spec, I applied to several universities and to my surprise I was given an unconditional offer to study civil engineering at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.
In April, I ran the London Marathon in 2 hours 43 mins, a time that remains a personal best and is the only time that I have not walked at any stage in a full-marathon.
One enduring memory of that day is that after finishing, I travelled back to my home in Leicester, turned on the TV only to see live coverage of people who were still running! The next day I travelled up to Edinburgh to meet members of the civil engineering faculty and tour the university. I liked what I saw and accepted the offer without any further consideration.
In late spring I was awarded the most improved athlete of the year by my club, Leicester Coritanians.
Things looked good, Band Aid was rocking the world and I had a great two weeks in Porec, in the former Yugoslavia. On return from that holiday, I returned home and opened my mail to learn I had won a trip to Brussels to watch the athletics at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels!
It was with great excitement that I left my job of a little over 6 years and travelled up to Edinburgh in the first week of October. Things started well; I was coping with my studies, well most of them, calculus was tough. I joined the university Cross Country Club and was soon posting good times in the local cross country league. Soon there was talk about me becoming the first runner from Heriot Watt to be selected to represent Scottish Universities in the annual three-way international cross country meet to be held in Edinburgh in late Autumn.
As easily as I had settled into my studies and cross country, I had also settled into the Edinburgh drinking scene! Very early on I had learned that, unlike England in those days, the pubs did not close during the afternoon – beer drinkers heaven! And so I discovered the delights of Rose Street, in particular the Rose Street Brewery, The Last Drop, Deacon Brodies, Greyfriars Bobby and many more.
Photo from bestofedinburgh.com
The day before the trial, classes finished at 12:30 and after lunch I headed into the city to get some text books. About 4pm I remembered that one of my class mates, Alan, had said that a friend of his was coming up from Stoke and would be arriving at Waverley Station about now. I thought that it would be nice to have a beer and welcome him to Auld Reekie before heading home and preparing for the big race. Yeah, right! Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was a burgeoning alcoholic and one drink is never enough. The drinks flowed and the hours passed and we finally got back to the halls of residence at about 3:30 Saturday morning, with the trial now less than 11 hours away. Not only had I blown my chances in the trial – I managed to get around the course, but only just – but I then proceeded to blow my chances with the most beautiful Denise. Denise lived in the same block as Alan and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to wake her up at 3:30. The sight of three very drunk Sasanachs making complete fools of themselves was not going to help my cause, and from then on I was too embarrassed to even talk to her again until the third year of my degree, when she was in the same halls as me and in her final year. By that time my mum was dying of cancer and I was a complete mess, barely managing to get through the academic year, yet alone making a success of any form of relationship.
Many years later and with the benefit of over four year’s sobriety, I can recognise that blowing my chances in the trial and with Denise were forms of self-sabotage, something that I would excel at in the coming years, as my life was driven by constant fear. In the case of the trial it was a fear of success that held me back. I knew that I would qualify if I ran to the best of my ability and current form, but then what? I would have to maintain that level of performance or even better it. May be, I subconsciously thought, it would be better to fail now, whilst the expectations were lower, rather than later when more people would depend on me to perform well. In the case of Denise, it was my complete fear of rejection and inability to approach someone I liked that led my undoing. Even though Denise’s friends encouraged me to talk to her, even after the debacle in her corridor, I could not bring myself to do so. I’m still hopeless at reading the opposite sex, and in all of my longer-term relationships, it was the lady that made the first move. At least that way I don’t have to judge whether she is interested or not!
Nowadays I am able to recognise when fear is beginning to control my decision making and take appropriate steps to address it so that I can continue to challenge my limits. It is hard work, and at times I feel like I am in a constant battle with my depression and anxiety, but generally that fight is worth it. I hope that I will continue to grow during 2018.