IT’s six years since Ross Houston decided to focus on the marathon and the prospect of representing Scotland at a home Commonwealth Games has always been his primary source of inspiration.
Yesterday, he was named among four athletes who have made the grade and been added to Team Scotland, joining fellow marathon runners Freya Ross and Hayley Haining, as well as pole vaulter Gregor McLean.
The decision provided joy as well as a relief for Houston, who finished more than half a minute within the qualification standard with a time of 2 hours 18 minutes and 28 seconds, in Frankfurt, back in October but had to wait until after the London Marathon to see if anyone else could better him.
“I’m very, very pleased and it has been a relief. It was a strange situation because I didn’t run in London and I knew there was a chance that someone could go faster but that didn’t happen.”
Having lodged his time and then suffered an injury setback which restricted his training throughout January and February, Houston said he took the calculated risk of sitting out the London race in the hope he had already done enough.
“I hadn’t been able to train fully so I didn’t think it was worth running the risk when I know how much each one can take out of you and how long it can take to recover and get back into the best shape. But, having taken the decision not to run, it was nerve-wracking.”
But with none of his rivals bettering his time, Houston says he can now focus on keeping healthy and fit as the Games draw closer.
Having impressed as a youngster, winning the Scottish Schools championships at 1,500m, he has represented Scotland and been a regular on the domestic scene over many of the long-distance track events before switching to the road.
“I’ve always done competitive running since I was young but about six years ago I decided to take it a bit more seriously and target the longer event. I knew that the Commonwealth Games were coming to Glasgow so it was an outside goal, but as my times improved it progressively became more and more realistic and in the past two or three years it has definitely been my main goal.”
A former Loch Ness marathon champion, he is unlikely to feature in the medals but he is hopeful of doing himself and his family and friends proud.
“I haven’t set hard and fast goals yet but I’ve got to be the fittest I can be and if I am, I think I can improve on my personal best. It will depend on how others do, but I don’t think finishing in the top 10 is out of the question.”
Married to Claire, with a two-year-old son Fraser, he says following his dream has required their understanding and support. Up early every morning to complete the first of his two daily training runs, he fits in the second between finishing work and getting home to put the little one to bed.
In total, Houston covers between 120 and 130 miles a week and still combines that with full-time work and his family life. “Time management is one of my biggest challenges and you do need a supportive wife. When we found out I was in the team, she was probably even more excited than me, which is great.”
A scientist at Edinburgh University, the 34-year-old conducts research into animal diseases at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian and claims that running is his hobby “albeit a serious one!” But with the Commonwealth Games looming large, yesterday’s announcement was a tangible reward for all his endeavour thus far.
“I went down to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and watched the athletics and some of the other sports and I got a sense of the atmosphere and the enormity of the occasion and what it meant to everyone, so I know what to expect in Glasgow. I know how big it will be. When I stop to think about it there is nerves but there’s also a lot of excitement.
“I hope people will turn out along the route – it’s one of the events where people, including my family and friends, won’t need tickets – so there could be a lot of home support.”
Houston will join Derek Hawkins, who was among 23 athletes named in the first wave of selections by Commonwealth Games Scotland in September last year.
“Behind the selection process of all the athletes lies years and years of hard work, application and determination,” said Nigel Holl, chief executive of Scottish Athletics. “That’s why it is so exciting for each and every single person when their place is confirmed.”
Louise Martin, chair of Sportscotland, added: “I am delighted that a further three marathon runners and one more pole vaulter have achieved section for Team Scotland. Freya, Hayley, Ross and Gregor are joining the best group of athletes this country has ever produced for a Commonwealth Games, so congratulations to each of them.”
The announcement brings the number of Team Scotland competitors already selected to 127. It is anticipated a further 150 could join them.