Thursday, 25 April 2013

My claim to London Marathon’s overtaking record!

LONDON: Keep calm and have a banana!
ONE of my favourite moments during the BBC’s annual coverage of the London Marathon is always that lingering shot of the very back of the field, as everybody waits for the start on Blackheath and in Greenwich Park.

Among those waiting patiently at the rear will always be the heftiest of the fancy-dress costumes, of course, but lurking among them will be a few unencumbered runners, who look suspiciously slim and fit and have no obvious need to be running from quite this far back.

I know what these scamps are up to, because back in 1988 I was one of them!

Every year you get a few, like me in ‘88, who arrive at the start area with a cunning plan. They want to start their race at the very rear of the field, stone-cold last, just to see exactly how many runners they can overtake during the 26.2 miles of the world’s greatest race.

It’s a good game, especially if you are running with no particular time target. It can yield statistics to be proud of - but I can promise you it’s the type of thing you only do once.

Overtaking is no easy process when you are confronted by people dressed as hippos, deep-sea divers and pancake-tossing waiters. Then there are walkers, stumblers and those zig-zagging with collection buckets. That thin blue line painted in the road to indicate the shortest route is not something you see very much of.

Back in 1988 Garmin devices weren’t around, so I can’t be sure, but I reckon I ran at least 27 miles, maybe more, with all the veering and body swerves that became necessary to make decent progress.

I believe I was successful in starting at the very back of the race, and even left a nominal 25-yard gap to allow for stragglers on the other start-line. That year there were 20,889 finishers and my twisting, dodging run of 3hrs.44mins gave me 8,808th place. That means 12,081 successfully overtaken!

Could it have been some sort of record to overtake and beat more than 12,000 runners in a single race? I’ll probably never know, but it kept me amused and motivated on a day when I knew I wasn’t likely to achieve a PB.

I have to confess that all seven of my outings at the London Marathon were not  treated by me with the seriousness of most of my other 900-plus races. It was always a fun day out as far as I was concerned, and not the type of event to bust a gut in. This attitude was based on my realisation that shorter distances suited me far better when in serious ‘racing’ mode.

Nowadays, with the desperate fight to get places in these mass participation events, my cavalier attitude would probably be condemned as “a waste of an entry.”

But my mitigating circumstances are that my place in the race didn’t deny any earnest charity runner his or her number, because I’d been awarded a complimentary entry from the organisers. Back in those days if you were a sports journalist and a runner, and promised to give the London Marathon maximum publicity in your particular organ, you were welcomed with open arms and given a special free ‘media’ number.

Apart from being able to sidestep the laborious entry system that faced Mr and Mrs.Normal, this had other perks too. A week or two before race day you could join the other journos, plus race founders Chris Brasher and John Disley, in Wales or Scotland for a few days of fell running, and other highly sociable activities involving foaming ale and pubs with roaring fires. The admirable Brasher would hand out generous amounts of free kit supplied by Reebok. We were like kids at Christmas.

These excellent mountainside gatherings would also inevitably include a late-night pub quiz, with Olympic gold-medallist Brasher the quizmaster. I’ll never forget his stunned reaction when I was able to correctly identify the barefoot winner of the 1960 Olympic marathon (Abebe Bikila).

Impressing a man of Brasher’s standing felt like one hell of a result at the time. It even overshadowed my performance at the marathon itself a week later!

PS: I've just been told that Sonia O'Sullivan overtook 25,000 runners in the 2010 Great North Run in a special charity challenge. Bang goes my hopes of a record. Mind you, I don't think hers beats mine because: (a) It was only a half-marathon; (b) She was a full-time elite runner with coach, sponsor and personal masseuse;(c) Money was at stake. 

* * Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus others) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively: 


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