Obituaries: Adrian Weatherhead, track runner who earned seven GB international vests

Adrian Weatherhead, athlete. Born: 22 September 1943 in St Albans, Herts. Died: 9 October 2022 in Portugal, aged 79

Adrian Weatherhead in action on the track
Adrian Weatherhead in action on the track

Adrian Weatherhead was an outstanding athlete who in a long, distinguished career enjoyed much success in a variety of disciplines and a reputation as one of the country’s most determined, single-minded competitors.

Best known as a middle distance track runner who ran four sub-four minute miles (plus some equivalent “metric miles” at 1500m), he earned seven Great Britain international vests and six Scottish ones. His top level repertoire extended from the half mile/800m to 5,000m and even included a season as a steeplechaser when he won the Scottish Championship. His range of abilities and longevity were vouched through his appearance every year in several events in the Scottish ranking lists from 1965 to 1981.

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Despite not trainingfor cross country and seldom competing in it, he was runner-up three times in the prestigious Scottish National Championship, against huge fields of participants, and represented Scotland seven times, including at two World Championships. In the latter stages of his career he turned to road racing, competing with distinction seven times between 1983 and 1990 in the famous Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay, his final appearance made at the age of 46.

Adrian was the first to recognise that while a decent schoolboy athlete he was not exceptional, nor did he have huge natural talent. However, through determination and years of application, he succeeded in attaining international status and becoming a sub-four minute miler. When young he had been told by a sports master that his future as an athlete would be limited, a prognosis he delighted in confounding.

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Although utterly committed to his running, Adrian was no blinkered automaton but a well-rounded, infectiously likeable gent with an outgoing, engaging and spontaneous manner. As well as the highs of success he relished the camaraderie of fellow runners.

Adrian Peter Loveday Weatherhead was born to parents Gordon and Dorothy in St Albans, Hertfordshire, where he was initially brought up along with young brother Jeremy. He attended St Albans School and sang in the local cathedral choir. In 1957 after the family moved to Edinburgh because of his father’s work as a Director of the Federated Employers’ Insurance Company, Adrian attended Daniel Stewart’s College, now Stewart’s Melville College. There he particularly enjoyed rugby as a wing forward, one early report describing him as “an outstanding forward for taking every chance”. He took up running to be fit for rugby and by his final year was in the 1st XV, vice captain of the athletics team and runner-up in the annual Sports Championship. The family home bordered Campbell Park in Colinton where Adrian would train regularly, his father having removed part of the garden hedge to facilitate direct access for him to the park.

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After leaving school he concentrated on athletics as he studied chemistry at Heriot-Watt University. By then a member of Edinburgh’s Octavians Athletic Club and inspired by the feats of top world milers Peter Snell and Jim Ryun, Adrian began to progress, first appearing in the 1965 Scottish ranking lists in the 880yds (800m). Assisted by Octavians coach George Sinclair and Heriot-Watt coach Bill Walker with input from the training schedules of John Anderson, Adrian trained religiously every day, often twice daily, with the emphasis on high quality track speed work combined with stamina building through winter mileage. He also joined Polytechnic Harriers in London to access top level competition.

His dedication began producing results and in 1971 on 19 June in Leicester he achieved his first sub-four minute mile with a time of 3mins 58.5secs, bringing a letter of congratulations from Sir Roger Bannister. Later that year he won bronze in the AAA’s [British] 5,000m championship. Numerous championship successes followed, including Scottish indoors and outdoors gold medals at 1500m and 5,000m, silvers and bronze in the AAA’s indoors 1500m and 3,000m, gold in the English Inter Counties 5,000m and at the Spanish Games in Madrid over 1500m, as well as British and Scottish international vests.

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Pride of place among his many achievements was his fastest mile of 3m 57.59secs at Crystal Palace in 1975, two seconds behind world record holder Filbert Bayi but ahead of future Olympic champion Steve Ovett and top Scot Frank Clement. Beating world class miler André de Hertoghe at Meadowbank in an international against Belgium thanks to a blistering final lap was another highlight. In 1977, at 33, he ran his last sub-four minute mile, one of the oldest athletes to achieve the feat.

In the early 1970s Adrian joined Edinburgh Athletic Club, with whom he shared the National Cross Country team title five times, and on the roads won team gold in the Scottish Six Stage Relay. When he debuted in the Edinburgh-Glasgow Relay aged 39 he won his stage by a whopping 33secs and remained extremely competitive until retiring at 46.

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After graduating from Heriot-Watt Adrian joined Ethicon before moving into local government with Lothian Regional Council in the education department. On 24 July 1972 in Edinburgh he married Jean Gibson, whom he had met socially, and they set up home in Colinton, where they remained. They enjoyed a long, happy marriage, celebrating their golden wedding recently.

Following early retirement in 1996 he pursued a number of interests including astronomy, small bore target shooting and guitar. He was also a popular guest at Octavians reunion lunches where his company was much enjoyed by all. Adrian died suddenly near Faro while on holiday in Portugal. He is survived by his wife, brother and other family members.

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