Every time I said “never again” I really meant it. The training took over your life and I was still co-owner and managing partner of a busy thriving Chartered Accountants practice and working long hours. Despite that I was also completely utterly driven to do my best at everything I took on in life. This probably came from my background of being a born and bred council estate lad, never wanting for anything but knowing how hard it was for my Mum to put food on the table. Living in debt, hiding from the rent collector and the tally man because there was no money to pay them. Yes, I was driven, driven by the desire to succeed in life and not to go back to where I came from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my roots but the thought of living in debt, on the edge, was enough to drive me in business life to succeed and that was carried into my running life. I wanted to be the best I could so I trained hard whilst working hard and playing hard.
From my maiden marathon in 2007 I’d run one every year but now the ante was about to step up!
Chicago 2011 was next on the list and, totally unbeknown to me beforehand, my first World Marathon Major (WMM) and soon to become part of a major goal in my life to complete the set.
This time only Andy and I travelled with our other half’s. This was Andy’s final WMM and last ever marathon, or so he said at the time, but by then he was really struggling with his hip and had gotten through the training thanks to painkillers.
We had a great time in Chi town. It’s one of my favourite world Cities but, sods law, we got a really hot, still, day on race day. 25c at 7:30 in the morning rising to 30c by the end of the race is not the marathon runners idea of fun! Spent most of the race dodging from shade to shade making it a very long marathon, 26.64 miles according to my Garmin watch. Tried very hard to get under 3:30 but could see that target drifting away from me as the heat took its toll. Nasty little hill at the 26 mile mark but the 0.2 was a nice run into the finish in Grant Park and 3:30:52 in the bag.
Never ever ever has a cold beer been so welcome and when one of the Marshall’s offered me a pint my first question was “Is it proper beer?” In Europe it’s usually alcohol free but this really was full fat, ice cold beer with alcohol! 312 Wheat Ale and the first of many. I can honestly say that a beer never tasted so good.
Once Andy had finished and we’d met up you can imagine my joy in finding out that our race numbers had two beer tokens attached to them to be “spent” in the race village which we duly did.
Andy had accidentally double dosed his painkillers so was high as a kite. It was so funny watching someone who’d just run 26.2 miles bouncing through the fountain like Tigger. I so wish we had a video of that.
Thankfully our very sensible other half’s took over and made us drink water after we’d spent our beer tokens and this is the only photograph that you’ll ever see Andy and I drinking water in!
After the advisory water intake, Andy had heard that all the Irish bars in Chicago had offered a free pint to the first 50 marathon runners wearing their medals. Whether this was true or not is debatable but we were 6 pints in before we paid for a beer. We were very persuasive with the bar staff and the managers said “Oh give them a pint to shut them up”. Happy days.
I started part 1 by saying “It was all Andy’s fault” but it was actually Liz who was partly to blame. Unbeknown to Andy or I she’d heard about the WMM 5 star certificate that could be claimed when you’d completed all five (there were only 5 back then) and she bought it for Andy as a surprise and then they had it framed with his 5 WMM medals. When I saw the frame and certificate I was totally overcome with jealousy. Out and out coveting of my friends certificate and framed medals. The green devil of envy. I simply had to have that certificate and so I set myself the target of getting one.
Andy was in the first 20 Brits to get the 5 star certificate and in the spring of 2014 I became one of the first 30 Brits to achieve that goal but there are lots of stories in between. I think it’s not unfair to say that Andy and I became trend setters as far as bagging the WMM is concerned and inspired many others to achieve that target. They may be thankful for that inspiration but hate us for how much it has cost them chasing that WMM dream.
Next up was the matter of getting that difficult Boston QT (qualifying time). In the USA everybody dreams of bagging a Boston QT and entering this most iconic of races. For many it’s just a push too far but for most above average athletes it’s achievable. For my age group, 55-59, the QT was sub 3:40 and that was my goal when I ran the first Manchester Marathon, my home city marathon, when it re-started in 2012 after an absence of many years. It was a truly foul day. Many runners who picked up their race numbers the day before simply didn’t bother starting on the Sunday morning and approximately 1,000 dropped out on the day, many with hypothermia.
Thankfully I ran pretty well in 3:28:24 which was an amazing time in the circumstances and yaaaaay, I’d got my Boston QT for 2013.
It was a good job I had used the time before the organisers announced a few years later that the course was short, which was par for the course for the worst organised race that I’d ever taken part it. Thankfully they have improved massively and it’s now one of the best organised I’ve run, I ran the full Manchester marathon 3 more times as well as running it a couple of times as part of a relay team.
Before I could put the QT to use at Boston 2013 I had Berlin 2012 in my sights. Yes, 2 marathons in one year and I was still saying “never again” after each one.
I was 55 by this time but I’d never run better. Training for Berlin was the best I’ve ever trained. I ran some amazing times in races that year and felt very comfortable running long tempo runs at 7:00-7:30 per mile pace. So strong was the training that I really thought a sub 3:15 PB was on the cards. Then disaster struck, the runners curse, an injury. I ran a superb tempo training run, faster than target pace and after 7 miles with 1 mile to finish I decided to back right off and ease down over the last mile when my right hamstring decided to pull. Ironic that it went after I’d slowed down! It was like being shot in the back of the leg. So painful that I screamed in agony and hobbled ¾ mile back to base. This was just 17 days before race day! Spent the next two weeks cross training to maintain fitness as best I could and turned up on race day having no idea if the hamstring would hold up. During the race it kept tweaking repeatedly which forced me to ease up the pace but thankfully it held up for 26.2 miles and I crossed the line in 3:29:11 not too shabby in the circumstances but certainly the chances of a very good time, perhaps sub 3:15, shot up in flames.
On the Saturday before the marathon there is an International friendship run where everyone turns up in national costume and plods 5k to breakfast in the Olympic stadium. This really was great fun with our friends from Denmark turning up with their drinks trolley offering fellow runners Schnapps and beer for breakfast!
Then the drama unfolded. A few of Styal RC members were taking part and we all had a reasonable idea what times we were all likely to achieve. By the time Chas was an hour past his probable finish time we were all getting very worried. Louise headed off to try hospitals whilst we hung around for hours trying to get information before we headed back to the hotel only to find the bugger sat outside having a beer with Louise! We were very relieved that he was safe but could have killed him! Needless to say that was Chas’s last marathon. He’d been pulled off the course at 30k with dehydration and taken to hospital on a drip as a precaution. Well, we always thought he was a bit of a drip. Only joking Chas.
I was going to carry on and write about the Boston marathon in 2013 but that was such a special and incredibly tragic an event I’m going to do a seperate blog just on Boston to cover the bombings and the impact on the City and ourselves.
Part 3 to follow soon.