With Christmas coming up, thoughts naturally turn to the Christmas handicap.   Most clubs hold these on the Saturday before Christmas and the handicaps are maybe a bit less balanced than usual.   I once ran in the Scottish vets Christmas handicap from the Bishopbriggs sports centre when the handicap was blatantly fixed so that a real veteran who had been a councillor in Motherwell was sure to win.   He had been mugged a couple of months before and his head had been fractured by a paving stone necessitating some time in hospital.   Sympathy ruled and it was sorted by an over generous handicap.   Sure enough when he came down the hill to the finish he was in the lead but a figure was hurtling down the road behind him and passed him on the line.   Criticism of the ‘winner’ was loud and prolonged.   The rules for the event are clear and often very charitable.  

Our own club president – or rather his family – set a record that has never been beaten.   Peter won the senior men’s race, Shirley won the women’s race and son Mark won the Young Athletes race.   Never done before and never since.


There have been many interesting ‘prizes’ won in these races.  

*One year in the Men’s race there was a trouser press, neatly wrapped on the table at the end of the race.   A trouser press?  Yes, the men’s team had been third in the first ever Allan Scally memorial Race at Shettleston and the prizes were trouser presses!   One ended up – unused – at the Christmas Handicap.   

*Then there was the runner at Lochwinnoch whose club had a barrel in which the prizes were placed, still wrapped and the winner had to shove his hand in and pull out something – he knew not what.   One year a runner, A Scottish cross-country internationalist, pulled out a parcel which looked familiar and it turned out to be a shaving brush and shaving soap – the very ones that he himself had wrapped and brought in.  

*Then there was the runner who opened the still wrapped gift to find it contained Vaseline, Elastoplast, wet wipes and sundry other medicaments.   Presumably he had recovered from his injury and was disposing of the left overs while saving himself money on the buying of a prize.

*When Ronnie McDonald was in charge of Leisure & Pleasure in Dunbartonshire, he organized a Christmas Handicap in Levengrove Park over two laps of the road loop, starting and finishing at the war memorial.   There was always a prize for the runner who most nearly forecast their finishing time.   I won a bottle of the best from the local distillery once.   Other such events incorporated a ‘forecast your own time’ element but that was never a feature in our races.


When I joined the club the race was on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas and procedure was for the prizes to be wrapped and placed on the tables – one table for the young athletes and one for the adults.   While the races were taking place they were unwrapped and placed on the tables.   The awards were very varied – books on running or biographies of runners would be there, boxes of chocolates (adults) or selection boxes (Young Athletes), cake of various descriptions (often enough Dundee Black Bun for the New Year), other Christmassy foodstuffs, maybe a T shirt or running vest, Sports socks and so on.   Never alcohol, never tobacco of any sort.   That would have been a poor example for the young ones.

The presentation was held with everyone present, regardless of age or gender.   The young ones would come first and receive or choose their gift  and there might be a special award for the fastest time.   The seniors would be there for that and see the young runners go up for the occasion, applaud them and it did the youngsters good to see the seniors present at their award ceremony.   Then came the seniors and the young ones stayed for that, a good presentation often as not with catcalls, or jokes to some of the seniors from their competitors and an award for the fastest time and for the first across the line.   Best awards in that category?   Well John B Maclachlan who had emigrated to South Africa some years before, was home for Christmas and had two very nice wall plaques – the background was a plaque in the shape of Africa.   Fastest time was John B Maclachlan whose plaque had a figure of a giraffe fixed to the front of the plaque; I was first across the line and mine had an elephant fixed to the front.   

It should be pointed out that there were two Johnny B Maclachlans – the African one’s middle initial stood for Bell, while the fastest time runner’s was Bisset.   Gave programme makers no end of trouble when there were two John B Maclachlans in the same team.  

The Christmas handicap, with all club ages involved was a great social occasion and one of the only times when the entire club got together with the different age groups cheering each other on.

One puzzler was when one burly young (U17) runner started off wearing a T shirt under his vest.   When I passed him at half distance he was wearing the vest and carrying the T Shirt but he crossed the finishing line a mile later wearing the T Shirt and carrying the vest!


This week’s little known fact: Club President Peter Rudzinski joined the club on 18th November 1983: he ran his first National Cross-Country Championship on 25th February 1984 [i.e. his first season in the club] in Irvine and has run in every National Championship since then with the exception of 2022.   His record in the District Championships is equally impressive. A tremendous example to all club runners.