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Marathon: Haining in it for the long run

HAYLEY Haining is a veteran and a veterinarian.

At 42, Hayley Haining will be the oldest track-and-field competitor in Scotland team history   Photograph: Phil Rider
At 42, Hayley Haining will be the oldest track-and-field competitor in Scotland team history Photograph: Phil Rider

Both claims to fame are relevant to her participation in this summer's Commonwealth Games. Not only did confirmation of the 42-year-old marathon runner's inclusion last week make her the oldest track-and-field competitor in the history of the Scottish team, but it also confirmed the unlikely turn of events whereby the University of Glasgow vet school in Bearsden has emerged as a hotbed of the nation's finest athletic talent.

Haining's day job is there, as an associate academic and veterinary clinician in clinical pathology, and one of her students last year was Laura Muir, the promising 20-year-old middle distance runner who seems set to be one of the faces of the Games. While the pair occasionally make small talk about training during down time in practical classes, the image of the two of them belting round the environs of the school is disappointingly wide of the mark.

"It is such a small world, isn't it?" Haining said. "Laura is in third year here, so I taught her last year, and in practical classes and things like that we will catch up. But it does make me laugh that in such a small place in Scotland there are two people who have the same thing going on. Just sitting watching what is going to happen next with Laura is fabulous. She has already done exceptionally well so I would just wish her good health and let's just see what happens.

"As for a run, I think Laura would leave me standing. She is a speed merchant and I am more of a shuffler!"

For the modest athlete who doesn't see having a high-powered job and motherhood as an impediment to a prolonged running career, making the final cut for the Commonwealth Games, along with Susan Partridge and Freya Ross, is another huge achievement.

While bowler Willie Wood, at the princely age of 72, became the oldest Scotland team member in Delhi, suffice to say long-distance running requires rather more physical exertion. It is a discipline in which the consensus has always been that athletes reach a peak in their mid-30s but Haining - as well as English runners Jo Pavey and Helen Clitheroe, who are both 40 - are bucking the trend.

"To be running these kinds of times in your 40s is not that uncommon. And I think certainly in athletics you are seeing more and more women running into their 40s," said the Dumfries-born athlete, who lives near Lochwinnoch and runs out of the Kilbarchan club under the close eye of coach Derek Parker.

"I have ran all my life so I would always have hoped that I would continue running, but I would probably not have pushed on as hard and for as long as this if it wasn't in Glasgow."

There is a maturity to her training routines: no longer does she hammer her body to breaking point with hundreds of miles each week, but whether it is 20 minutes on a lunch break around the campus or 40 minutes on her way home with her partner Willie, no opportunity is wasted. Even running after her dog Bruce can be a fruitful use of her leisure time.

"I work on a microscope a lot, and you are very still, holding yourself in the same position a lot, so you can get a sore back and a sore neck, so I make a point of getting out for a run three or four lunchtimes a week, even if it is just for 20 minutes or half an hour," said Haining, who today runs in the Bupa Great Glasgow 10K.

"My other half works at the vet school as well and we share a car to work so on my way home I can get dumped at various points, and run home along the cycle paths. But if you miss a day or two because somebody is not well or you have too much on it is not a big worry. When I am not building up for a marathon I am probably running something like 40 or 50 miles a week. During build-up it is closer to 100."

No matter how those training hours were squeezed in, the two hours 36 mins which Haining ran at last year's London Marathon was sufficient to see her selected for the Games, allowing her to sign off from elite international running in what is sure to be an emotional 26.2-mile run around Glasgow's streets. By the time she has taken the winding route through the Merchant City, along George Square and Buchanan Street, across the Squinty Bridge, and through Bellahouston and Pollok Parks, back to Glasgow Green, this long distance runner is unlikely to feel lonely.

"Once I got the qualifying time I hoped that would be enough, but there were quite a few girls with the potential to run quickly so I never counted my chickens," Haining said.

"I would reckon this is the last one for me at this level. If I stay healthy I probably will run other marathons, but it is more likely to be destination marathons and I will just mind my own business basically."

Haining was the first Scot home, in ninth, in Melbourne in 2006, but missed the chance to compete in Delhi four years ago due to the birth of her son Elliott. She spent 2008 as a reserve to long-time rival Paula Radcliffe for the Beijing Olympics, only to become surplus to requirements when, after much drama, Radcliffe was able to compete. Difficulties with her posture after having the baby cost the Scot any realistic chance of targeting the London Olympics.

As it turned out, Haining's Antipodean experience in 2006 was something of a mixed bag. Suffering from flu before the event, she "hit the wall" amid soaring temperatures, but is nonetheless proud of the way she toughed it out. The warmth she experienced from the crowd also lives on.

"I was sitting in 27 degrees heat, but I felt like I was frozen to the core," she recalled. "It was one of the slowest times I have run, but it is actually one of the ones I am most proud of. Because of the heat, because I was unwell, but I still managed to take the most from these situations as they arose."

Another memory is attending the Commonwealth Games with a pal in Edinburgh in 1986, watching Yvonne Murray take bronze in the 3000m.

"I thought her and Liz [McColgan] were just the bee's knees and it was great to be there and see Yvonne win the bronze medal," said Haining. "It was like a cauldron, hearing everyone shouting at the runners and it had a huge impact me. I was hoarse by the end of the day. Hopefully this year lots more youngsters can take the same kind of inspiration that I did."

Haining is living proof that even a life in athletics is a marathon not a sprint.

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