Ross Houston wins gold in his first Lindsays Scottish Masters XC event earlier this year (photo by Bobby Gavin)
By Katy Barden
Albert Einstein once said: ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’
It’s a fitting mantra for Claire and Ross Houston – both well-known members of Central AC – who have, in arguably challenging circumstances, perfected their respective running strategies.
‘It’s become a bit of a standing joke that Ross was running so well because I was always pregnant,’ laughs Claire, referring to her husband’s performances since their eldest child Fraser, eight, was born in 2012.
In fact, when Fraser was less than two weeks old, Ross – a scientist in his day job – helped Scotland win their first Home Countries Cross Country International senior men’s title since the event started in 1903.
‘It was Fraser’s first mention in a newspaper article about running, so I kept it,’ says Claire, a former high school teacher who now runs her own business teaching baby massage and baby yoga.
Since then, Ross’s career trajectory has followed a similar, if coincidental, pattern of progression.
Claire was seven months pregnant with daughter Isla when Ross represented Scotland in the 2014 Commonwealth Games Marathon in Glasgow and, following the birth of their youngest daughter Katie in 2016 – and another increase in mileage – he earned his first Great Britain international vest for ultra-running.
Ross and Claire with Fraser at Glasgow 2014
Claire’s own return to running after having Fraser was gradual.
‘We knew we wanted another baby so there wasn’t an urgency for me to get back to serious running too soon,’ she recalls.
‘Ross was also running so well, so the balance was working – it might have been different if he’d been rubbish!’
Claire joined Central with her sister following a primary school cross country event and her involvement as a junior had a positive knock on effect for the family.
‘My mum had always run, she’d done marathons, but she didn’t really know how to train. She started to train with us because she was taking my sister and me to the club then sitting in the car and watching; gradually the coaches persuaded her that if she was going to come anyway, she may as well start running. My dad also got involved as a team manager.’
As she progressed from an 800m runner in her teens to a 1500m runner, she joined Ross’s training group, which is how they first met.
Ross’s introduction to the sport was more by chance: ‘I did a race aged eight or nine and found that I was quite fast, and that was it from there.’
As competitive adult runners with three young children, life today is a little more complicated, but no less successful (or fun).
Ross concluded his first Masters’ cross country season with victory at the British Masters Cross Country Championships in Wales, while Claire – a former triathlete – is consistently a scoring member of Central AC’s women’s team and has excelled in virtual races during lockdown.
‘Having children has meant I don’t have time to train for three disciplines and running is so much easier – you get a lot more for your time via running,’ admits Claire.
‘I’ve become a bit more of an opportunistic runner. I get my miles in at the weekend. I always do my Monday night track and the rest of the week tends to be a bit more opportunistic. I don’t really have a training plan.
‘There are no more wasted miles. There are no recovery runs. I either run or I don’t run, that’s me, I don’t get to go for an easy run.’
Ross is an early riser and goes out running before breakfast.
‘He’s always done that. Even at the weekend I always go out running second, I like to get my legs moving a little bit first.
‘People would always say to him ‘how do you justify the time away from the family?’, but in the morning we’re all asleep, so it doesn’t matter. It works for us.’
While their training schedules are manageable, one of their biggest challenges as a family is race logistics, especially during the cross country season.
‘We’re actually fine during the summer as we don’t tend to run the same races, so it’s easier with the kids,’ says Claire.
‘The difficulty is cross country as we’re both running the same races and my mum’s racing again – she’d taken a few years off – and they’re not babies anymore.
‘When they were babies we could wrap them up and stick them in their buggies but now that’s not an option. They also have birthday parties and things to go to now, so it’s a tricky one. It’s about prioritising.’
The juggle, however, is worth the effort for all of them.
‘The kids see us out running, so it becomes normal,’ says Ross. ‘Daddy runs, then mummy runs, that’s normal.’
Claire adds: ‘They probably assume that’s what everyone’s parents do. That’s what I thought when I was their age.”
While athletics isn’t currently the children’s number one sport – Fraser enjoys gymnastics, Isla is into bouldering and Katie says she wants to be a ballerina – they enjoy getting active with their parents.
Just prior to lockdown, took part in a junior parkrun event in Edinburgh. They’ve even measured a 2km loop close to their home which Claire and Fraser run together.
‘He likes the idea of it,’ says Claire, ‘but when it gets hard in the middle – not so much!’
One of Ross’s earliest memories of cross country was watching Steve Ovett win a local race in Kirkcudbright.
‘That’s what always blows my mind about our sport,’ says Claire, presumably thinking of an occasion like the Lindsays National XC..
‘I’m running, my mum’s running and there are Olympians running – and my kids are there watching us all in the same race.’
Running, as it always has done, continues to bring people of all standards together to inspire and to motivate, whether they’re running for themselves, a charity, their club or their country.
While Ross didn’t have a specific athletics-related target for 2020, Claire had already committed to a charity challenge in support of her friend’s daughter who was diagnosed with cancer when she was five. The plan may have changed, but she’s still raising money through participation in virtual events, including the Brooklyn Half Marathon.
The Houstons make the most of every opportunity, and while it can be challenging at times, it’s a simple philosophy and worth the effort.
Einstein would surely agree. It’s not rocket science.
Claire supports Ross on GB and NI international duty when he raced 50k and finished seventh in the World Champs in Doha