I'm writing this 'tale' on Monday 12 March (the day after the Bath Half Marathon). I'm at the home of Bath Rugby and several of the staff (non-playing) appear to be walking 'gingerly,' possible evidence of their participation. One in particular can only walk downstairs backwards, confirmation of their participation. How do I know? I know because I've run the Bath Half Marathon several times and also completed two marathons, Dublin and London. I'm proud to announce I finished both races on the same day they started. Not so proud of the fact I was 'in bits' after both. I didn't know it was possible to be in so much pain and remain conscious.
Three years after my last appearance at the Recreation ground I went for a gentle jog in Hyde Park, just to see what impact three years of inactivity had on my general fitness. After eleven minutes I was hanging over the railings emptying the contents of my stomach. How could I possibly be in such poor shape?
I had a decision to make, either never run again or, do something about my pathetic fitness level. I decided on the latter and started to jog three times a week. After a few weeks (noticing little if any improvement in my fitness) a lad I worked with started to run with me. Mark and I pounded the streets and parks of London; He was 10 years younger and did a lot of talking while I listened. A couple of weeks later, I had another decision to make; Mark had suggested we both enter the Dublin Marathon taking place six months later at the end of October!
To put this in perspective, I had never run more than three miles in my life without stopping. During an England training weekend at Bisham Abbey, near Marlow, the squad finished a day of training with a 4-5mile run, (most of the squad). After a mile I noticed an inviting church-yard surrounded by a medium height wall, it took one athletic leap and a couple of seconds before I was hidden from view. All I needed was to remain awake and re-join the group on the way back. I can't begin to describe my surprise when fellow Bath team-mate Stuart Barnes almost landed on top of me a minute later, having made a similar decision regarding the benefits of distance running for 'sprinters.'
After six months training I found myself in Dublin 'running for fun' (an oxymoron surely) trying to complete 26.2 miles. My great friend Andy Ripley gave me one piece of advice, "Start slow and get slower." Unfortunately I'd never felt so fit in my life and went off a bit too quickly, swept up by the occasion.
Publicly, I'd said I wanted to finish the race without stopping. Privately I wanted a time of 3hrs 45mins. I passed the half way mark in 1hr 40min, far too fast for my physical capability. At 20 miles I experienced cramp like never before, every time it eased I took two or three paces before the searing pain returned. Fifteen minutes later I entered Phoenix Park, limping, walking, shuffling, but mostly crying. I remember a lady wishing me luck and telling me it wasn't far to go. "Probably a bit too far for me," I responded. She opened the boot of her car, leant in and handed me a massive slice of apple pie. Not ideal fuel for a marathon but it was sufficient to get me to the finish line in 4hrs 7mins.
I announced, not as publicly as Sir Steve Redgrave I was never doing another marathon. However as the years passed I knew I had to break the four hour barrier. So in 2001 I ran the London Marathon (4hrs 47mins – chip time!). I have some unfinished business when it comes to physical challenges, and given the state of my knees I think cycling is next on the agenda. In the meantime, congratulations to everyone who completed the Bath Half earlier last month. A few of you have my money, you all have my admiration.