We speak to a masters athlete who has made a habit of destroying records since making a return to competitive running
“Get oot ma way, ya little b****rds!” thought Alastair Walker as he ran into a group of young rugby players who had casually strolled across his path during a local parkrun.
The boys would have been oblivious to the fact they were impeding a multiple world champion. Walker may have dominated global masters athletics in recent years, but aside from his lean frame, he is far from a stereotype. After a successful senior career he initially gave up athletics at 38 years old before reigniting his love affair with the sport in 2016.
“I just couldn’t be bothered anymore’,” reflects the 2023 world M65 10km champion. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to run as a master’, it didn’t really rock my boat.”
For 20 years he didn’t run a step.
At the peak of his career, Walker’s PBs included a 2:22 marathon, 66-minute half marathon, a sub-30 minute 10km and a 30-minute 10,000m, the latter good enough to rank him third in Scotland and earn a national vest.
His return to the sport two decades later sparked an incredible resurgence, but only after a brutal reality check over a two-lap 10km race. “I thought I was going to win it,” he says. “Then I dropped out after the first lap.
“That was it. I thought: ‘If I’m going to do this, I have to do it properly’. I raced a couple of times then I entered the Scottish Masters [Cross Country Championships] and finished a distant fourth (M60). That’s when it got serious.”
Walker version 2.0 has since racked up a series of major age-group titles including world, European, British and Irish Masters 5000m; Scottish Masters 10,000m; British and Scottish National 5km; world, European and British 10km; British & Irish, British and Scottish National Masters Cross Country; Scottish National, and Scottish National Short Course Cross Country. He was also voted European Masters Athletics long distance athlete of the year for 2022.
Most recently, he broke his own M65 world 10km best with 34:04 in April, adding to world records over 3000m indoors in January (9:57.18) and 5000m in August 2022 (16:36.59).
It’s no coincidence that his improvements have come since linking up with coach Cathy McCourt, a former Irish senior international and multiple world masters medal-winning athlete.
The pair have made significant changes to his diet, including a move to being predominantly gluten-free. The intensity and quality of his training – which totals around 70 miles per week – has also increased.
Walker has changed his tune on masters athletics, too. While the lack of depth in his M65 age group is frustrating, particularly on the roads, he is regularly tested on the track by Paul Forbes, a middle-distance expert who represented Scotland three times at the Commonwealth Games. In fact, Forbes beat Walker – who was later disqualified – to the 1500m title at the 2023 World Masters Indoor Championships. “It’s a Coe/Ovett thing,” he laughs.
READ MORE: Paul Forbes interview
His goals for the remainder of 2023 include a fast track 10,000m and possibly an autumn half marathon, in addition to this summer’s European Masters Championships.
Beyond his title ambitions, he thrives on respect from younger athletes and an appreciation of the times he’s running. “I love that,” he says, his eyes lighting up.
It is said that to be a champion, compete; to be a great champion, compete with the best; but to be the greatest champion, compete with yourself. It is an accurate summation of Walker’s two-part career. He is now his own biggest rival.
This article first appeared in the May issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here