While Brigid Kosgei and Shura Kitata et al got to run their London Marathon in Central London, tens of thousands of others – including a few ESM members – had to be content with a substitute. Here are a few of their stories, starting with Sarah Holroyd’s ESM Gang of Four. It may have been a virtual race, but it didn’t lack drama, and they had the benefit of some amazing support along the way…
“The WhatsApp group ‘London to Edinburgh’ was formed in January 2020”, Sarah reports. “Sally Murnaghan, Mariona Sorrosal and Steve Taylor had places in the Virgin London Marathon (VLM) whilst Jenny Jones and I were bound for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival (EMF). We had a plan and got as far as the Hillingdon 20 before Covid-19 hit and both races were deferred to the autumn.
“We eased off on the training but as the heat of the summer ramped up so did the training, only for the races to be deferred again. The VLM became virtual and we heard that left over places would be up for grabs, two of which Jenny and I managed to secure very early one Wednesday morning. Only Steve was trained to a standard to run the whole way, so the rest of us spent a lovely morning with Catherine Günnewicht, learning the intricacies of ‘Jeffing’, and decided to run 6 minutes, walk 1 minute as that took us roughly 1Km.
“The planning of the race began:
- Coercing family to provide water stops.
- The VVLM Cheer Squad was formed.
- Downloading the tracking app, ensuring we had the latest version. There were tears at bedtime on that one.
- And which route? Not a hilly one, not loops. We settled on The Queen of the Suburbs route which we’d used as a 20 mile run, adding circuits of many of the parks, and Steve produced a spreadsheet of where we would be when. Unfortunately the day before, part of the course was flooded and adjustments were needed.
“On the day, we met in the bandstand in the Bunny Park under dark skies which produced rain for the whole day. We started the tracking app and our watches, all setting off together with Steve’s running buddy Robert. We lost them as we started our first walk, but occasionally glimpsed them in the parks. Our feet were soaked a few miles in, and the winds around Northala [Fields] were particularly biting, but even that was preferable to the heat of VLM 2018.
“The support was incredible and apologies to anyone I miss. Our families always in the right place at the right time with water, gels, bananas, dry clothing, drugs and jelly babies. In Northala, we came across Jav and Bruce who informed us we’d just left Woolwich. Alarm bells rang gently. They also told us of Santosh’s super speedy VVLM. Lynn, Martin and the bell were in Pitshanger Park, Catherine and Malcom near Blondin Park, Annette outside Lammas Park, Barbro and Olov in Northala. Larry and Olivia in the Bunny Park. It was often difficult to recognise people, as they were so wrapped up against ever-deteriorating weather, causing Sally to miss her sister. Leanne, out running herself, chivvied me on through Lammas and Walpole Parks, and Sarah Gerrie near Pitshanger Park. Rachael cycled alongside for miles with her vuvuzela. Sally’s family and friends were everywhere and Mariona’s did a large chunk of Acton. That was where we received lots of support from the general public and car/van drivers.
“It was about halfway through that we realised the tracking app wasn’t working properly. Only Mariona was on track whereas Jenny and I were a mile behind, and apparently Sally hadn’t even started! Discrepancies which had escalated to 2 miles at the end. A few miles from home, Mariona decided to run the rest of the way but I needed my walks to take on water, so Sally stayed with me but Jenny slowed some and wanted us to go ahead. Sally and I added more and more roads to try to get the app to complete our run, holding our phones in our hands so we didn’t have to run a step further than necessary. That eventually happened at 28.2 miles and we joined our families and Steve back at the bandstand – but where was Jenny? Her tracker had frozen at 22 miles so we waited and were mightily relieved when we saw the ESM green coming into the park. Jenny’s watch had given up at 24 miles but she had Strava on her phone. Lots of befuddled minds tried to work out how much further to complete the 26.2 miles. Only to the end of the path and back thank goodness. Result five tired, cold and wet but elated runners.
“I have two official times from the VVLM and one from my Garmin differing by about an hour in total! That is no matter, we did it together with tremendous support from family and friends and formed lifelong friendships. We are awaiting our medals and T-shirts at the time of writing and looking forward to a time when we can celebrate properly together.
“Next stop Edinburgh 2021”.
Santosh Rai ran his virtual marathon at Northala Fields – where else? “[It] went very well even though it wasn’t great weather. We ran in loving memory of my colleague “Lucky Singh” who was meant to be running with us today. Unfortunately he passed away 3 weeks ago. We missed him a lot today. I managed to do a new PB in 2:54:30 with the help of my club mates Andy, Sean and Colin who came out to pace even in the worst weather. I would like to dedicate my new PB and medal to my late colleague “Lucky” … [About a dozen] family and friends cheered and supported us all the way, standing in cold and wet weather. Salute to Udesh, Taaj, Raj dai’s bhauju, Kamal uncle and Dhan uncle for amazing support. Really appreciate Marius for all the facilities at the cafe. Thank you to pro photographer Sandeep and two other friends for their great pictures. Well done and congratulations to all the runners for completing a marathon amazingly. See you all again. Thank you @ Northala Fields”.
Johnny Yam also got dizzy on circuits of Northala Fields, though his 26.2 mile route included a foray down the A40 to Perivale track. Johnny only joined us shortly after lockdown but has applied himself well to his training, resulting in a massive PB of 4:08. “I ran many laps of Northala, everywhere was flooded and horrible weather but I stayed focus and maintained a good pace throughout. All the training pays off and this gives me the confidence to continue to train hard and hope to improve gradually. Santosh set up a base in Northala cafe with a lot of support so I intentionally ran through there many times to get me going till the end. It was tough but enjoyable and I am sure this is a very special experience”.
Akira Anzai-Jackson tackled his virtual race alone, but even the elites didn’t get as many pacers as he did…
He set off at 07:30, reports Pete Flewitt (which sounds horribly early to me, but is apparently the time when his training group does their usual long Sunday run). Coach Steve Mann was lead bike, and the whole group ran at least some of the way with Akira. Jessica Leane was there until mile 6; Pete himself stopped at mile 8, followed by Jamie Taylor-Caldwell. These three then became spectators, cheering and supporting Akira with each 2 mile lap. (Stockdove Way, left, along A40 to Greenford Roundabout, left again up to Greenford Broadway, left again onto Ruislip Road East, along and left into the alleyway before Gurnell, back down to Stockdove Way again, and repeat!)
Mo Hashi paced him for 23 miles, and Tim Lawrence was there for c.20. Mo Ali joined Akira for 6 miles after his own training session, while Seweryn and Elias paced him for the last 12 miles or so.
He finally finished on Stockdove Way in 3:08:38 with very tired legs: “they’d had enough, having had cramp 800m from the finish. I felt the legs giving up on me near the end, but the group I have been training with managed to push me to the finish…literally and metaphorically”.
Jamie Taylor-Caldwell adds that Chris Hepworth and Ben Waterman ran their first, albeit unofficial marathons whilst pacing Akira: “They both ran 2:58, assisted by training partner Jonathan Poole… although they were probably most assisted by Pete telling them there was no chance they could finish a marathon (and also me reminding them that Pete had said this when they were tempted to stop after 16 miles!) The stubbornness of runners!” Pete adds the further insight that “Chris and Ben bet they could run the distance in under 2:50 mins. If they succeeded, then Jamie would have had to drink a pint of beer, something he’s never done before. They did manage the distance, but their 2:58 time meant Jamie was safe”.
Three other club members headed over to Dorney Lake for another lapped marathon, this time in company of other runners: Jonathan Horan, Paul Gibson and John Robertson. Remarkably, given the conditions, Jonathan and Paul both ran PBs.
Jonathan Horan was first home for the club in 2:44:12, and was very pleased to knock over four minutes off his previous best at last year’s London Marathon.
It was Paul Gibson’s fifth road marathon, though he has also tackled ultra events. “It was great to see other club members doing well there. The event was brilliantly run, with good social distancing and a really nice atmosphere. A nasty cross wind and the wet conditions made it challenging. I however very happily got a PB (first time under 3 hours) of 2:55:31”.
John Robertson was equally positive about the way the event was organised, andprovided a colourful account of his race: “Like everyone, I hadn’t raced for ages, so when I heard a marathon was being run at Eton Dorney Lake, I jumped at the chance to sign up. Of course, there were lots of unknowns going into it: I didn’t really know how fit I was, not having raced or trained normally for ages and it had been raining for days before Sunday.
“On the day of the race it was still very windy and rainy, but despite everything the organisers managed to put on a really good event and I was grateful to be able to compete again. I was going well I thought until about 17 miles in, ticking off the miles at about 6:15ish pace, which is what I’d hoped for. Then I pulled a muscle in my calf and had to run a bit awkwardly on it until the finish, stopping to stretch it a few times. I think everybody struggled with the wind and the rain too. In the end, I was glad just to finish under 3 hours (2:56:35). That was a tough race and I felt like I had to grind it out to the end there and not give up.
“But has it put me off the marathon? Not one bit. I am still keeping everything crossed that the London Marathon can go ahead in October 2021 and I can have a place. It’s kind of a special event for me, because as much as you can prepare, certain things need to go right for you on the day. I find it fascinating as much as I do a challenge. This time was unique too, in that different people were all running the distance in different locations, but all at the same time. Some friends of mine were running 26.2 in and around the village I live in, Akira and the other ESM lads were doing laps of Perivale, and the elite runners racing around St. James’ Park. I thought of them all, when I was doing my run.
“Oh yes and this time when I took my shoes off at the end of the race, only one of my toenails fell off (four came out last time), so that’s an improvement. But this one was loose to begin with, kind of like a wobbly tooth”.
Bill Lonsdale should have been joining them, but fate intervened a week prior: “Sadly, I shall not be taking part in the Virtual London Marathon a week tomorrow, which I intended to do in conjunction with the Dorney Lake Marathon. 3.5 k into the second leg of a cross-training session on my bike, I hit a large fallen branch on the towpath in Greenford, bringing me off onto the towpath and actually into the canal, along with my bike. I managed to climb out and cycle home with grazes and bruises. However, after a shower and dry clothes, I found myself in A&E in severe pain where a suspected fractured femur was ruled out. The bad news is that I am only able to get about on crutches with major soft tissue trauma. Physiotherapist confirmed I’d not be doing the marathon, (as if I had any such expectation, LOL), nor running for a number of weeks. Aquatherapy and possibly static bike in three weeks”. We all wish you a speedy recovery, Bill.
Jamie also reports that Mike Boucher, second claim ESM member, ran 2:35:23 to finish third in the Isle of Wight marathon, “a remarkable run in the conditions”. It’s renowned as a tough, hilly course too, with 323m of ascent. He set an M40 course record and now ranks seventh in this year’s UK M40 marathon rankings.
Well done to all and thanks for sharing your stories. Please email any errors or omissions to Fiona.