None of it was my fault! I blame it all on Rachael Charlton, Andy Dooley and a 71 year old lady I met on a walking holiday!
After life as an active sportsman playing table tennis to just below county standard and a fair bit of social squash why on earth did I get into running?
It all started with a medical when I was 45 (2002). Let’s just say that I’d got a little bit tubby. My kids used to call me Mr Blobby! I was sent for a medical by the firm that I managed and they told me I was borderline clinically obese, my blood pressure was sky high and that I’d be on drugs for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something to sort it (oh, the irony of it).
The gym where I played social squash had an informal running club and, in fear and trepidation, I joined them for a few runs. I was the only person who ever fell for the initiation ceremony when a guy called Chas told me “All new runners have to run up and down these 50+ vertical stairs twice”. Well I did and no one else has since and that started a friendship with Chas that survived then and still does today.
After a couple of years we decided that we should become a “proper” club and affiliate with England Athletics and so I was one of three main committee members when we founded Styal Running Club in 2006.
That’s when Rachael came out with the words that became a little bit immortal for me “Now that we are a proper running club we should all have a marathon on our CV”. I resisted valiantly for weeks on end. After all, I still thought 10k was too far!
In the end I caved in and about 7 of us entered the 2007 Amsterdam marathon in my 50th year. Strangely, one by one all the others dropped out leaving billy no mates to run the marathon on his own whilst they dropped down to the half. What made it even worse was that they got the same medals and tee shirts as I did for double their effort. Great joy walking around Amsterdam with them getting congratulations for their “marathon” efforts and me wandering along behind them very slowly, limping!
I can’t knock them too much though as they were very supportive and helped me with my training, running parts of my long runs with me and standing at the top of the steepest hill in my last 20 miler at mile 19 and shouting “Come on, put some effort in”.
I worked hard for 16 weeks, I really put the effort in and turned up in Amsterdam as fit as I’d ever been. The pounds had dropped off and I looked sleek, slim and fit.
Amsterdam is a lovely marathon starting and finishing in the Olympic stadium. It’s amazing running into the stadium underneath the Olympic rings after 26 miles but it’s also lovely running along the Amstel out in the Dutch countryside.
Running quite conservatively, because I was utterly terrified of the distance, I ran in at 3:37 and promptly said “never again”. I said “never again” another 18 times before I got to 60!
Then Andy joined Styal RC and that started the ball rolling on many more running adventures around the world.
Andy was a better runner than me but being the stubborn bugger that I am that was an incentive to improve! It took me years to better his half marathon PB. Most importantly we became great friends and have shared most of each others running highs and lows.
Andy really suffered with immense hip pain for a good number of years that we ran together before finally having one hip replaced and coming back after that to run more marathons before his 2nd hip needed doing. Amazingly he has come back from the 2nd new hip a bit like the bionic man and has run several more marathons and trained for an ultra (postponed due to Coronavirus). It was one of each others running highs when he finished his comeback marathon back where my marathon journey started, in Amsterdam, in 2019 when he was 62. He trained like a man possessed. Totally focussed and dedicated and he got the reward he deserved when he finished well inside 4 hours. It was incredibly emotional and his Wife, Liz, and I were in tears (I’m allowed, having no male hormone means I’m an honorary woman) of joy when he crossed the line.
Going back in time now, lots of my club mates saw my elation when I finished Amsterdam in 2007 and decided that they really “should have a marathon on their CV” and asked if we could train together for another one but I’d said “never again”. Yet again I caved in and agreed that we would train together.
Andy and I sold the Brussels marathon to the gang on the basis that Belgium must be flat because it’s next to Holland. We’ve never lived that down! It’s gone down in club folk lore!
A group of us trained together for Brussels 2008 and we trained hard, 5 or 6 times per week really racking up the miles.
Andy and I were pretty well matched at marathon distance so we decided to run with the 3:30 pacemakers.
It was a foul day. Wet, windy and cold. I don’t mind the wet and cold but I don’t like running in high winds.
Chas and Jonny also ran together, a good way behind Andy and I as usual.
Coming out of the City, just before an out and back section, we hit a significant and long climb and looked at each other and said “Oops, we’re in for it when Chas and Jon see that”. Unsurprisingly we got the dogs abuse as we passed them on the out and back section! The saving grace was that we had to go down that hill on the way back into the City and I was a strong downhill runner.
Andy and I stuck with the pacemakers pretty religiously until about 30k at which point I felt really strong and took off on the long downhill section back into the City. With a few kilometres to go the slower runners in the half marathon joined in the course from the left and it gave me an amazing boost to be going past so many of them after 35k or so and I ran strongly into the finish to bag a time of 3:23:53, a time that I wasn’t to beat in the following 18 marathons. Andy also got in under 3:30 so we were both very pleased until of course Chas and Jon finished and wanted to kill us for selling them a flat marathon. Thankfully they were too slow to catch us!
We then moved on to Frankfurt in 2009 although we very nearly didn’t. Sat at Manchester airport for our 9:30 flight the day before the marathon when we hear the announcement that the flight had been cancelled! WHAT? No Lufty you can’t do that to us. Then spent two hours on the phone to Lufty getting everyone re-routed via Heathrow arriving in Frankfurt at all sorts of ridiculous hours. Dreadful preparation for everyone and very stressful but thankfully we could collect race numbers on the morning of the race. Then followed the most dull boring marathon of all time. Andy and I ran together again but both had a rubbish day. It’s still the only time Andy beat me in a marathon. By 1 second on gun time as we both clocked identical chip times. If only I’d put a sprint in at the end. Oh well I’m glad he’s got bragging rights for this one as I now live my running life vicariously through his. We both clocked 3:30:07. Not too shabby for a bad day for two old blokes!
Next up was Budapest 2010. Never ever been so wet in my life! The race alternated between Buda and Pest and we spent most of it running along the Danube. But the heavens opened and we had to run through rivers running down the roads. Andy and I ran together again and I took off again at 30k and finished strongly in 3:26:29.
Another clubmate, Brian, had to dive behind a bridge when his gut got the better of him and the following day the Danube was a strange shade of orange/brown! Bri got ribbed mercilessly for his dump turning the Danube orange.
Chas finished but was in a bit of a state so his Wife and mine got him changed into warm clothes. It was horrible sight seeing him stood stark bollock naked whilst two women tended to him, one of which was my missus. I then spent half an hour walking him up and down, walking backwards, walking forwards, getting food into him and bringing him back to the land of the living. Oh the power of Mars bars post marathon.
Remarkably, the Doctors think I’d had Prostate cancer for 10 years when I was diagnosed meaning that I ran all these races with the cancer growing inside me not knowing what was to come.
That’s the end of part 1. In part 2 we’ll get into the World Marathon Majors and the Comrades ultra marathon which were to become my obsession until 2017 when I ran into cancer whilst training for my attempt to bag a Comrades back to back medal but more of that on another day.