ONE of the world’s most successful yet unassuming ultra runners hailed from the Three Towns – yet Al Howie is not a name familiar to many in North Ayrshire.

Born in Saltcoats shortly after World War II, Arthur ‘Al’ Howie attended Ardrossan Academy and although he dabbled in cross-country running it wasn’t until he moved across the pond to Canada that his prowess for long distance running came to the fore.

While many people can say they have run a 10k race or even a half or full marathon, these distances were like a gentle stroll for the self-proclaimed ‘Tartan Spartan’.

Al set numerous records during his illustrious career but at a time when distance running wasn’t a popular or well-known sport, many of his achievements have slipped under the radar.

These are featured in the book ‘In Search of Al Howie’ written by American author Jared Beasley who spoke to the North Ayrshire native whilst he was sadly battling health problems at a care home in Canada before his death in 2016.

As well as his many records at very long and extreme distances, Al was a very accomplished runner in pretty much every event, clocking a 4.44 mile and a sub 2.30 marathon, times most people can only dream of.

It was back in 1991 when he really hit the headlines when he completed the Trans Canada Highway run. This was a solo effort of 7295.5 kilometres (over 4,500 miles) and he completed in 72 days, 10 hours and 23 minutes.

Not content with this, Al also set the then record for the John O’ Groats to Land’s End run – just over 10 days.

Al was brought up in Saltcoats with sister Elizabeth and brother Ian. His father Arthur, a merchant seaman, had boxed in the navy during the war while mother Mary was a competitive swimmer.

His competitive career lasted almost two decades and included various runs in between cities just to get to the start lines of races – races he would often win or finish in the top three.

He was famed for his laid back attitude and was often seen drinking a beer at the start of races when competitors would be stretching and warming up.

In 1985 he suffered brain cancer and in 1995 was diagnosed with Diabetes I which he controlled with daily insulin injections leading to his being honoured by the North American Association for Diabetic Athletes.

Al’s latter years were spent in care homes and were marred by diabetes and mental health issues..

He is survived by his wife, son Gabe, daughter Dana, and grandchildren Jocelyn and Kiyari.