Obituary: Mel Edwards, Distance runner on the track, on the roads, cross country and on the hills

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Mel Edwards, distance runner. Born: 2 December 1942. Died: 8 November 2019

Mel Edwards, who has died aged 76, was a highly successful and extremely popular Scottish distance runner in a career spanning more than 50 years. Such was his lifelong passion for running that it would have been fitting had the song ‘Born to Run’ been penned with him in mind. A member of Aberdeen Amateur Athletic Club for many years, he garnered a haul of honours on the track, on the roads and hills and over the country. By 2005 he had accumulated over 100,000 miles of documented running in competition and training. He figured in the Scottish ranking lists between 1960 and 1969 at all distances between the quarter mile and six miles, as well as the marathon. The latter event was arguably his strongest as he was second reserve for Great Britain in the 1968 Mexico Olympics having set his best time of just over 2 hrs 18 mins in his debut run in 1967, placing him fourth in the British rankings.

He also won silver and bronze medals in the Scottish Championships at six and three miles respectively and won the English Universities three miles event in record breaking time. In 1964 he won the Scottish Junior Cross Country title defeating rivals of the calibre of Lachie Stewart and Ian McCafferty, earning a Scottish vest for the International Cross Country Championships. Later he also did long distance hill and fell running which augmented his honours collection including winning the Scottish Veterans’ Hill Running Championship and setting a record for the 28 mile Cairngorm Munros event that stood for 23 years.

These are only some highlights of a career during which he also found time to be race organiser, coach and mentor to runners of all standards while contributing articles to various publications.

After his diagnosis with multiple myeloma in 2006 he vowed that cancer would not defeat him and in the intervening years raised significant sums for cancer care charities through sponsored runs and related activities. Another important aim was to contribute to ‘improving life changing facilities for children with severe problems’ which he succeeding in doing by raising valuable funds for Woodlands School in Aberdeen.

Blessed with a good sense of humour and warm outgoing personality, he was a truly inspirational figure for whom the award of an MBE in 2014 for ‘services to athletics and charity’ was richly deserved. His good friend, former marathon champion Colin Youngson recalled: “No one deserved the honour more, everyone admired and liked him, he enjoyed a laugh and had an exhilaration for life.”

Meldrum Barclay Edwards was born in Aberdeen where he was brought up in Beechgrove Terrace, the only child of Freddy and Joy. Given his initials, he used to refer to himself jokingly as ‘MBE squared’.

His father was a headmaster at several Aberdeen schools, an all-round sportsman and in retirement became a sports journalist. Before marriage his mother was a clerkess. Mel could remember being inspired after listening on the radio to Emil Zatopek’s feat of winning three gold medals at distance events in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the start of becoming hooked on running. Educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, the third of four generations to attend there, he set his sights on winning races at the annual sports, and in his final year achieved a clean sweep at quarter mile, half mile and mile. His career was under way as a member of the Aberdeen club when he began his studies in civil engineering at Aberdeen University which he also represented at cross country and athletics, winning a ‘blue’. From Aberdeen he went to study for a Master’s degree at Cambridge University where he ran on the track and over the country, earning a double ‘blue’. Thereafter he completed post graduate studies in transportation at Newcastle University and undertook a research post at Southampton University before earning his livelihood as a road safety engineer.

Other running successes included East of Scotland titles at three miles on the track and at cross country, a highly creditable fourth place in the prestigious Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race and as the highest scoring member of the Aberdeen club team pipped by one point for the Scottish cross country title. He also contributed fastest stage times in the iconic Edinburgh to Glasgow road race relay.

His mileage reached over 100 miles per week as he concentrated on the marathon in his attempt to reach the Olympics. With leg injuries hampering road running he continued with cross country enjoying success at veterans’ level and began hill running, completing arduous races including the Ben Nevis, Lairig Ghru and the Swiss Sierre to Zinal 28km event.

In 2012 on his 70th birthday he ran ‘70 minutes at 70’ for the Anchor cancer charity and in 2016, 100 x 100 metres in two Aberdeen locations to fund equipment for Woodlands School. He felt particularly honoured to run the Queen’s Baton relay in Aberdeen for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

In 1972 he married Kareen Anderson, a social worker/psychotherapist, with whom he enjoyed 47 years of happy marriage in Aberdeen during which they had son Myles, also an accomplished runner. Through Mel’s running connections, Myles and Gideon Gathimba, a Kenyan athlete, founded the GathimbaEdwards Foundation to help disadvantageded children in Kenya, a cause close to Mel’s heart.

Although he will be deservedly well remembered for his running feats he has an extra special place in the hearts of many for his unremitting fight after his diagnosis to better the plight of others in similar circumstances, especially children. His family has been extremely touched with the extent of tributes from people whose lives he impacted positively. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter in law Mary and granddaughter Dahlia.