Our Man in Rhodes 2007

Murdo Alex MacKenzie (mac Angus M agus Emma) was part of the Western Isles team competing at the Island Games in sports such as athletics, football, golf and swimming. This was a successful games for the Western Isles where they won a number of medals, including a first Gold medal in athletics, and achieved a number of other personal best (pb) performances. Murdo has been one of our best young local runners in recent years and this was his second Islands Games, having competed in Shetland in 2005 in the 800 metres and 100/400 metres relays, where he picked up a couple of bronze medals.

Seanchas caught up with Murdo Alex Mackenzie on his return and asked him how he got into athletics, about his experience in athletics thus far and the Rhodes experience in particular. Given that football is the dominant sport in the Western Isles and indeed formed a large part of the squad at Rhodes, I asked Murdo how he got interested in athletics.

What got you into athletics? Did you watch athletics when you were younger? Did/do you have any inspiration from modern day athletes/athletics?

“I started running properly when I was in Back School. I was persuaded by the PE teacher to take part in the local cross country races. I came 3rd overall over the 3 races and the next year I improved this to 1st. I started to go down to the track sessions and this is where my love of athletics started. I don't recall watching much athletics when I was younger. I was more into football at that stage. My first memory of watching athletics is from the Sydney Olympics when I watched the 100m final. Michael Johnson and Seb Coe are good athletes to look up to as some of their performances were just fantastic and they both achieved the great accolades an athlete would want-the world record and the Olympic Gold medal.”

What are the difficulties of training in a fairly solitary/individualistic sport in a relatively remote part of the world?

“I would say there are a few problems of living up in the Isle of Lewis if running is your sport. Firstly, there are not many other middle distance runners living up here so it makes training that little bit more difficult. People on the mainland would have several people of the same ability to train with. Secondly it is very expensive to go to all the races you want to attend. I have had only 3 races this year but could hope for a lot more if living on the mainland. Apart from that, it is really good to go for a run anywhere on the island as the scenery is so beautiful.”

Where do you train, how do you train, individually or with others?

“I train 6 times a week. Training is done mostly in Stornoway itself. I used to train with a group but with work and college commitments this has not been possible. Although it is difficult, I train on my own quite a lot of the time. I don't mind it so much when I am out for runs but it is quite difficult when you do a track session on your own.”

What is your main event and how often do you compete throughout the year and at what level?

“My main event is the 800m. This year I have not had as many races as I would ideally have liked. In January I raced at the Scottish Indoor Championships. At this race I got knocked out in the heats and felt my performance was below par. My next race was the North District Championships in May. I won this in 2.05, 5 seconds quicker than I ran in Glasgow in January. Finally I ran at the World Island Games in Rhodes where I got knocked out in the heats but produced a pb of 2.01.98. My previous best time was 2.03.69 which I ran at the Island Games in Shetland in 2005. In the winter I take part in cross-country which is not my best event but I feel that it helps to improve my overall fitness.”

In which events did you compete in Rhodes and were you happy with your times/performances? What is the standard of the competition at this level?

“In Rhodes, I ran the 800m, 4X100m relay and 4X400m relay. In the 800m I went out in the heats placed 4th. At first I was disappointed not to make the final of the 800m but I ran a pb and that made up for the disappointment. In the 4X100m relay we failed to make the final but improved our time from Shetland 2005. The standard was much higher in Rhodes as we were the defending bronze medallists in this particular event and even with a better performance than before we missed out on the final.

In Shetland, we also won the bronze medal in the 4X400m. In the heats, we were placed 3rd to make it through to the final on the last day of competition. The time of 3.28 was a 3 second improvement on our previous time, but in the final the heat was at an almost unbearable 46 degrees. This was heat like I had never experienced before and we came in 7th in a time of 3.30. We also felt our last leg runner was impeded in the final straight when he looked poised to pass two of the runners. We felt slightly disappointed but knew we gave it our best shot.”

Rhodes was obviously very hot which was bound to affect performances, especially for Western Isles competitors. Did you do any acclimatisation training and did it prepare you for the heat?

“The heat was like nothing I have ever experienced before. However, by the end of the week I had got quite used to it. We undertook no acclimatisation prior to going to the games. We received packs to give us information about taking water and applying sun cream which were very useful. The only time at the track I felt it affected my performance was on the final day of competition where it was 46 degrees. The golfers and the shooters had the toughest conditions as they had to stay out in the heat for hours at a time. The temperatures for them hit the 50 degree mark on more than one occasion.”

'Drugs in sport' is a fairly topical issue at present, especially in athletics. Was there a drug testing system in operation in Rhodes?

“There was no drug testing system in Rhodes. Out of every competition I have been to I have never been drug tested. In Scotland, I should imagine there is some testing at the national championships but in my opinion there will be very few athletes in Scotland taking performance enhancing drugs.”
What was your personal highlight from the Rhodes games?

“My personal highlight from Rhodes came on the Thursday night of competition when Eilidh Mackenzie won Gold in the 800m final. Not only did she improve her pb by NINE seconds but she also broke the games record. For the first Western Isles Gold medal to come in athletics made it sweeter. The atmosphere on that night was just electric and really spurred on the performances.”

You are leaving for university in the autumn which provides greater competitive opportunities. Apart from getting your degree of course, what are your main aims as far as running is concerned?

“The ability to compete at more competitions will be a huge advantage to me. This year I have only had three races so far, but living on the mainland I could easily have a race every 1 or 2 weeks. My aims are just keep improving my times and hopefully I will be able to medal in the next Islands Games in Aland in 2009. Hopefully, I will also be able to get into a good training group and it will be better to train with more people who are of equal or better ability.”

Seanchas wishes Murdo Alex future academic and sporting success.