The Carnethy Interview - Robin Morris

        Interviewing Robin was very intimidating. Not because of him, of course. He was welcoming, relaxed and very helpful when I went to his house one Sunday evening. I was very conscious of his huge contribution to hill running in Scotland, his outstanding record in Scottish athletics, his knowledge and involvement of how sport is organised at the highest level. Robin is a competitor, inspired to do things by the prospect of excelling in his sport. And he's a professional writer; I wondered how this piece and the conduct of the interview would measure up. He denied being a writer (I'm a results man and journalist, he protested). He is my archetype for an Edinburgher and I say that with affection. What follows is only a fraction of the possible content - the real problem was what to leave out .

What training are you doing nowadays?
It was the big five-oh in July so there's an incentive to try to get really fit again and compete in the over-50s. For the last ten years a back problem has limited my ability to achieve a fitness level I would have liked. Any special diets? No, I eat anything, but sensibly. I'm lucky to have had a naturally constant weight for about 30 years. I cycle a lot around the City.

Were you born in Edinburgh?

        Yes, born and bred and lived here most of my life. I have a twin brother and an elder sister and brother. My father died very young (I was 10 at the time) but I remember a happy family upbringing. On reflection, my Mother coped remarkably well with the loss (of her husband) at the age of forty. I married Rosalind, who is amongst other things a cordon bleu cook, in 1979 and we have 2 teenage daughters. A lot of runners seem to have two daughters!

Why did you leave the safe world of banking?
The likelihood was that a period of moving about all over the country and Europe was on the cards. I didn't like the idea. The girls were at school in Edinburgh and we wanted stability for them - and I had just waited 5 years to get into a golf club!

Was school a happy place for you? Did you start running at school?
I enjoyed being at George Watson's College, in those days "Boys College". Sport was mainly rugby at first, but I gave that up - I wasn't suited to it. I still enjoy watching most sports, including rugby union and league. Running started when the School were looking for someone (he actually said 'a mug'!) to do the mile. The discipline of serious running appealed to me and I found I was good at it. My introduction to the hills was at school and with the Scouts in the 60's. We went to early courses at a brand new outdoor centre called Glenmore Lodge. We did the big Munros in the Cairngorms.

And how did your running develop?
I went into the world of Banking and there was a serious league of Bank teams, with plenty of competition, especially in London - great experience. By the 1970's I was with Edinburgh Athletic Club and became track captain. We made great progress in the British Athletic League, rising through the divisions from IV to I, after qualifying at Crystal Palace. The team were in the European Club Cross Country Championships 4 times. In the same period I was British Banks track, cross country and road running champion. I made the Scottish National track team in 1973, winning gold medals in 1973 and 1978 with the Club at cross country. It was all good competition and fun.

How did you get into hill running?
One of the best hill runners in Scotland, Brian Finlayson, was a friend. Brian had won every race in the calendar, except The Ben. He encouraged me to try it. My first race was the Carnethy, in 1971. My experience in steeplechase and cross-country made it a natural transition. It took a while to aquire the mountain craft. I became a life member of the FRA and by 1979 I was competing exclusively in the hills in the summer.

Describe your favourite type of run.
The Creag Dubh has everything a race should have. That's my favourite. I won it in 1984.

You were the first Scottish hill running champion in 1983 and a founder member of Carnethy Hill Running Club.
Yes, it was all taking off at the time and there was a lot happening. The races in Scotland were local enthusiasts' affairs, although very popular for all, especially the Carnethy Five. We wanted to establish a Scottish hill running presence.

Talk about that period.
The founders of the SHRA were Colin Donnelly, Boswell, Dick Wall and myself. Anne and Andy Curtis - orienteers and hill runners - were also very involved at this time. (I won a C class Karrimor with Anne). In 1983 we had established a Scottish hill racing calendar. The initial efforts went into promoting Scottish hill running. We struggled for recognition and credibility.

The SHRA sent representatives to FRA meetings, though. You have the reputation of strongly resisting any attempt to form a UK race organisation. Why was that?
Scottish independence from the FRA was not only important, it was almost an imperative. There was a need to remain in the SAAA for International events. All the invitations from abroad went to the SAAA. Scotland's sport is perceived internationally as being independent. Its true in many sports areas - a Scottish Rugby Team: the world of soccer has never merged: now a Scottish cricket team: in the Commonwealth games we have separate English and Scottish teams. I think recent, political, devolutionary trends support this philosophy.

Enough of this high politics - some questions about you. What do you read?
Biography is my favourite. David Steel, George McLeod, Sir Peter Scott. Factual books, reference, books on sport. Books on the Hills, on Edinburgh. (In passing, Rosalind injected a comment about him never looking at a novel, or fiction of any kind. A piece of superb chocolate cake and a cup of tea had appeared by magic). Come and look at my Peter Scott pictures. These waterscapes with flying waterfowl are wonderful. There were several Peter Scotts on the staircase and in the lounge upstairs. Then there's my coin and stamp collection - I have £'s worth of Victorian pennies and half-pennies and acres of stamps.

(I noticed a piano upstairs). Do you play the piano, or have any musical connections?
Afraid not. Dancing and singing are not among my best accomplishments, either. I'd love to be able to sing well - particularly in a choir. Church music is a regular enjoyment of mine, being a member of the vestry of the local Episcopalian Church. It was part of my upbringing and culture, but I'm not a very religious person.

What about your heroes?
I don't have any.......... Wait, now you mention it .... I've been to the cinema three times in the last twenty years. Twice it was to see Chariots of Fire. I suppose Eric Liddell is a hero of mine. We organised a 75th anniversary celebration this year at the local Eric Liddle Centre to commemorate his Olympic gold medal.

Do you know the mountains outside Scotland well?
No, I rarely leave the country for holidays. We have a holiday cottage near Berwick and that's where we go. We have never felt the need to look abroad for the 'sunshine holiday'. My mother-in-law is Orcadian; we visit there regularly. And there is always Skye, Arran, Jura, etc.

Do you worry about the Scottish environment and economic development?
The principle of quarries, ski developments, salmon farming (we like salmon, said Rosalind, as she passed) I accept as necessary for the Scottish economy. Provided there is adequate protection against out-and-out exploitation. Let's say intelligently-controlled development is acceptable.

Quote - "Running is my addiction, golf is my indulgence". Do you still play golf?
Yes, I'm a member of the Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, which is a very ancient Club. I play as much as I can but not enough to get a decent handicap! I am also treasurer/secretary of a small fun club.

Convince me I should pay my £10 to Athletics Scotland.
Well, it's no more than a Club membership. This sort of affiliation is a part of any other sport you can mention. It allows you to participate in the sport and is a contribution to the overall organisation. Without a professional management for your sport, contacts with local and national Government, landowners organisations and other large bodies would be much less authoritative. Then there's the International dimension. The high flyers of our sport need financial and other support from a professional body of managers. Big sport costs money, to which we should all contribute, not just leave it to fickle sponsorship. If you put your money into it, you will get your moneysworth out of it as well.

All too soon we had run out of time. Robin doesn't stay still in one place for long! He had to meet his friend Martin Hyman at the Southsider at 9 o'clock as usual. Martin and Robin had taken major roles in setting up the World Trophy Races in Edinburgh in 1995. Robin had earlier expressed satisfaction that the organisation of the event had been at least as good as the best of other World Trophies before and since. That's where we parted - after I had been introduced to Martin (one of my heroes).

AM 27/6/99

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