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Halkirk athlete's invite from star

By SPP Reporter

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Halkirk athlete Andrew Douglas impressed Haile Gebrselassie so much that the running star extended an invitation to an elite race next year.
Halkirk athlete Andrew Douglas impressed Haile Gebrselassie so much that the running star extended an invitation to an elite race next year.

WORLD-record-breaking distance running star Haile Gebrselassie has personally invited a local athlete to take part in an elite Ethiopian race next year.

This means that Andrew Douglas, who comes from Halkirk, will be the first non-African sportsman to line up at the event.

Douglas has recently returned from the East African country where he won the open division of the Hawassa half marathon, which is promoted by Gebreselassie.

An elite race is also held as part of the programme of events, but entries are strictly by invitation, with only world-class African competitors taking part.

But Gebreselassie was so impressed by Douglas’s enthusiasm that he has offered the 25 year-old a place in next year’s top-level event.

Douglas is thrilled by the prospect and admits he’s already looking forward to the occasion.

He said: “In Haile’s post-race speech he highlighted my victory in the non-elite race. He referred to me as Irish, which you can imagine was quickly corrected, then proceeded to invite me to come back next year and run in the elite race as the first non-African to do so. That’s my 2012 holiday sorted for sure.”

Douglas’s Ethiopian victory wasn’t without its complications. He said: “With about 6km to go, I had built up a comfortable lead. However my police escort took me 700m in the wrong direction, so I had to turn around and retrace my steps to get back on course.

“At that point I didn’t know what position I was in, especially as I then noticed a runner ahead of me. I pulled up onto his shoulder and he stuck with me for a few hundred metres before falling back, meaning once again I was out on my own.

“The final few kilometres were really difficult as my legs were tiring, my breathing was getting heavier and, with the sun now beating down, I was beginning to get quite dehydrated.

“Eventually I crossed the line in 78 minutes 23 seconds, that includes the extra 1400m, and straight away Haile was there to congratulate me.”

In the days after the race Douglas travelled to the hills and forests of Ararat where most of the Ethiopian national squad train. He was keen to learn from them, and he wasn’t disappointed.

“At 6am each day I was up and running with some of Africa’s finest,” he said. “Adjusting to the altitude proved tricky, but I put in the mileage and trained three times a day for four days.

“To run in the presence of so many great, hard-working and dedicated athletes was incredibly inspiring. From understanding their lifestyle and approach to running, it’s easy to see why these guys are so successful – they are passionate and relentless in their quest for running glory.”

Douglas’s continued success was also showcased in a Sky TV programme this week which provided coverage of the recent Edinburgh Marathon Festival where Andrew won the half marathon in a time of 66.49 min, just nine seconds outside of his personal best, in less-than-ideal conditions.

He will next race in the National Half Marathon Championships in Dunfermline on Sunday, June 26, when he will represent Scotland in a Home Countries Road Race series against England, Ireland and Wales.

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