The series continues, looking at a club at the head of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highland capital city of Inverness

Although founded in 1946, Inverness Harriers only came to life in the late 1970s – for many of the intervening years it had been a major player in Scotland and a contributor to Scottish and GB teams at all age levels.

Success is not new to Inverness Harriers, which is undergoing a revival after a period of stagnation. Following a late-1970s expansion, Jayne Barnetson, Scottish high jump record-holder since 1985 and with a best of 1.91m, was one of three Inverness athletes at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. Another was former Scottish national 110m hurdles record-holder Neil Fraser (14.11 in 1987) while further GB internationals include Jayne’s brother, David, the former Scottish native high jump record-holder at 2.20m.

Background

Any club with four athletes at the Commonwealth Games should be proud of itself, but when that club is based in the Highlands of Scotland and 150 miles away from the main population centres, the sense of achievement is even greater. At those Glasgow 2014 Games, Rachael MacKenzie (high jump), Jason MacLean (disability sprinter), Kirsty Law (discus) and Jamie Bowie (4x400m) were the proud Inverness athletes. Even more surprising is that MacKenzie and MacLean have never moved away from the small city, which nevertheless boasts an eight-lane track.

Club president Keith Geddes says: “Probably the most difficult decision the committee has had to make was to freeze the under-11 and under-13 recruitment due to overcrowding. The place was just grinding to a halt due to sheer volume, although we’re now expanding sessions into different time slots to relieve the pressure, which has allowed more members to join again – nevertheless, we have now missed that lost generation.”

Sessions

The club’s Tuesday and Thursday training sessions take place at Queens Park. With the membership now above 400, the facility can be packed with athletes aged nine to 70.

However, Geddes doesn’t attribute recent expansion entirely to the legacy of London 2012 and Glasgow 2014. He explains: “We started a rapid increase in membership before London, although these two Games did us no harm at all. We like to think that what we are doing here has been the big attraction, especially for youngsters. They seem to enjoy the sensible and measured hard work we give them and our fortunes changed dramatically for the better when we abandoned the “fun athletics” of earlier years and consigned the bean bags and hula hoops to the bin!”

On a summer night at the track, the club’s focal point since 1984, club secretary Dianne Chisholm can be seen with her sprinters doing long-recovery 50m reps with one eye on her daughter, Rachael MacKenzie, who shares the high jump area with the club’s male jumpers. The sprinters have to compete for space with former Scottish team manager Charlie Forbes’ endurance runners, typically tackling their 500m efforts. Scottish throws coach Duncan Flockhart and his athletes sometimes abandon the circles for some sprint work, while the junior groups of up to 50 and their expanding squad of coaches can see the training areas becoming very busy indeed.

Apart from the Commonwealth quartet, Flockhart’s throwers in particular have hit the headlines. They include George Evans, who won the England Athletics shot title along with the SIAB and the UK School Games and topped the 2014 GB under-17 rankings with 17.24m. Others are in the pipeline across various disciplines.

Space isn’t an issue for the club’s steadily increasing band of non-track runners – the entire Highlands are on their door step and one feature known as “The Mast” at the summit of the 275m Craig Dunain, which overlooks Inverness, is something of an obsession. Road and cross country thrive more than hill running and the groups which head out on club nights also include a semi-competitive Wednesday squad with the club catering for all abilities.

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