Legends Among Us – Part 3: Alan Keys (by Lee Maginnis):
Clocking up one hundred thousand miles in a car is nothing out of the ordinary in the “developed” world. For Alan Keys, 2017 was the year in which he reached one hundred thousand running miles (recorded training or racing), a remarkable tally, especially considering he was twenty five years old before he even began to train seriously for athletics!
Despite his late start, he became an international on the track (steeplechase), cross country and as a veteran. He competed in places such as Leiden, Tarragona, Gateshead, Swansea and Stirling, all the while keeping detailed records and training diaries since 1971. His interest in statistics goes way beyond that; Alan has a record of every competition by every Regent House athlete from 1976 until the present day! He also became a member of the National Union of Track Statisticians and compiled the NI Mens Rankings for about thirty years, before automated databases took over (John Glover was responsible for the NI Ladies Rankings during this time).
Alan also has records of all the basketball, rugby, football and cricket matches he has played in! A native of Armagh, he attended the Royal School there. But despite competing, he never really trained much. He was in the rugby Firsts and also played basketball.
When he went to Queen’s University in Belfast, he was the vice captain of the athletics team, but his focus was still on other sports. Indeed, it is hard to comprehend how he managed to fit it all in alongside his degree! He played senior league basketball and continued his rugby career at Armagh. And he also spent time playing at Portadown and Glenavon football clubs!
When Alan finally began to take athletics more seriously, he competed for a club called Achilles before moving to Duncairn Harriers (neither currently exists) and then on to Annadale Striders.
It would be impossible to go into any great detail about the multitude of races Alan has competed in, or even to mention all of the many medals he has won, without risking bringing a server crashing down somewhere! But his main event was the 3,000m steeplechase (SC). That was his international event and where he won his NI senior title, along with five silver medals and three bronze. Over the years Alan also accumulated NI Senior Championships silver and bronze in the 10,000m.
Alan showed great talent over an amazing range of events. His PBs are: 100m-11.5, 200m-25.5, 400m-53.3, 800m-1:56.6, 1000m-2:32.8, 1500m-3:55.9, 2000m-5:39, 3000m-8:24.8, 5000m-14:48.9, 10000-34:11, 5K-14:31, 4M-19:46, 5M-24:55, 6M-29:54, 10K-30:34, 10M-51:53, Half Marathon-1:08.52, Marathon-3:40.28, 110mH-17.3, 400mH-1:00.2, 2000mSC-5:58.2, 3000mSC-9:09.96. Add to this his field events PBs: LJ-5.69, TJ-12.22, HJ-1.69, PV-2.30, Hammer-17.74, Javelin-34.28, Discus-31.30, Shot-10.36. And finally, the Decathlon-5090 points.
His medal collection at the NI Veteran Championships is vast. Concentrating only on his golds; Alan has won the steeplechase nine times! He has also won the 800m nine times. He’s won the 1500m seven times, the 5000m four times, the 10000m three times, the 3000m eight times…and counting! Alan can still be seen competing today.
As a M45, he achieved a sixth place finish at the World Veteran Championships. He was part of the quartet that broke the NI 4x1500m record in 1980, a record that still stands! His team-mates on that day were Jim McGuiness, Gerry Hannon and Andy Rajan.
Alan prefers track, then road, then cross country. He eats a sensible diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
At his peak, he would have covered eighty miles per week in winter and fifty in summer. Although his weekly total has been known to climb as high as one hundred and sixteen! His long run would have been ten to fifteen miles and he would have included one weights session per week.
Alan recalls his favourite track sessions: 20x200m (30sec) and 20x400m (1:10), both these with 200m jogging recovery. His other favourite was 10x1M (5min) with a lap recovery. He is obviously made of stern stuff!
A teacher by profession, Alan is part of the furniture at Regent House and despite officially stopping teaching in 2015, he still helps to coach athletics there. Three of his athletes went on to represent Great Britain at senior or junior level! He has also coached one hundred and fifteen NI age group champions!
At the 1986 Commonwealth Games, Alan was NI team coach. He has also been awarded UK Coach of the Year for Coaching in Schools.
Alan’s wife Carol was an Ulster Schools champion at hurdles. His son David won eleven Ulster Schools championships at hammer and discus and four Irish Schools titles. Daughter Rachel won an Irish title at discus, Ulster Schools titles at both hammer and discus and a Celtic international for steeplechase.
Alan Keys has had a remarkable sporting career and thankfully he is still a familiar figure on track and road, as the one hundred thousand milestone recedes in the rear-view mirror.