Feb 2017 and I am meeting up with an old school friend Phil and his son Ben who is probably around (forgive me Phil) 3 years old going on 4. He has taken the boy out for the day to give his wife a break and so where better to go than the pub with me for lunch. I take Ben to the bar to get the beers in whilst Phil bags the seats. In between entertaining Ben with his colouring and trying to distract him to stay at the table the conversation turns to where I am at with my running. I did not know at the time but this was going to be a turning point for an inspired Phil to come up with the idea of attempting the marathon. Why most of these things start in a pub is beyond me! We get the bill and go our separate ways with me none the wiser on Phil’s thoughts about attempting this colossal distance.
It’s another early start. Today was Bournemouth Marathon and rather special for me due to the company attending.
The day belonged to Phil who for some reason caught onto the amount of running I was doing and wanted to have a go. This would be my 71st go at the distance and Phil’s 1st. I had arranged to pick Phil up at silly o’clock in the morning and drive him back to my house to meet the third member of our party Ben (see Southend Pier blog) who would then do the drive down to Bournemouth.
I bundled the sleeping twins into the back of the car to go and get Phil. This would at least guarantee my wife 1hours much needed sleep before I deserted the fort again to go running. It would also allow for Phil’s family to come down a little later and duck out of the 6am road trip to Bournemouth.
Phil and I agreed that his marathon should be Bournemouth. As this event is held in October all the training is done during favourable months of the year with the extra daylight hours. We both had history with Bournemouth having attended the university at the same time and spending a few years down there the marathon seemed like a good chance to share 26.2miles of nostalgia.
My goal for this one was to run the whole way with Phil and see it over the line together. I wasn’t bothered for time, position or anything. This would be purely pleasurable and enjoyable seeing someone right from the very start of their marathon training to the finish line.
If you haven’t run a marathon you won’t appreciate the amount of training that goes into it. Phil had run most days for months. Since our meet in the pub Phil had been converted and this was now reality. Ben, Phil and I attended the Thames Meander half marathon in August and Phil put in a very respectable 1:42 debut for the half marathon distance. For a bit of context a very underprepared me a lifetime ago had a 2:05 debut and an underprepared Ben around the 2hr mark both back in 2014 but we were no strangers to shorter distances. For Phil this four month journey to marathon would be starting from runs of around 3miles to running home from the city to Carshalton a few times just to get the training hours in around his young family. The amount of work needed for a respectable marathon take many hours away from family and friends. It is a tough time for runner and family, especially if the family involves young children!
The three of us arrived at the start line in Bournemouth after hammering it down the M3.
I can’t recall how many times we went to the toilet but it was a fair few. The nerves kicking in – I miss those days and find that nowadays I have to sign up to silly ultra distances to get those sort of nerves back before the start.
Phil and I started in the same pen, so close together we may as well have been holding hands. A few anxious minutes passed and we were off. It took us time to settle into the run, find our place and relax a little. The first chunk of Bournemouth marathon goes through some pretty forgetful residential roads. Once relaxed we got into conversation and by mile 6 as with most long distance runs the conversation started to turn rather deep. I can’t recall the exact detail and if I could I would not be able to retell it having been sworn to secrecy even though a lot of time has passed it is probably irrelevant now anyway. But it is again an example of how long distant running seems to open people up. I know so many characters from the running circuit that through addictions, anxiety, OCD or whatever have found release in running. It seems to be a natural thing to chat through all your issues whilst running.
I carried my Salamon 12 lab vest for the race so I could carry all Phil’s bits and pieces. All he needed to focus on was the run. I was trying my best to keep putting calories and fluid in him. I think this started to annoy him around mile 12 where my constant offering of peanut M&M’s was doing his head in. The race started well but there were some big issues early on with Phil’s feet. We stopped and applied the tape. It was early days and by the 12 mile mark Phil’s feet were already pretty bashed up. I have run on blisters before and it is a horrible feeling. He managed well to suck it up. I even offered him my shoes as a swap but he declined and we pushed on.
Where Bournemouth marathon comes to life for me is around the half way point. Runners descend down to the beach and through the crowds giving a massive lift. We moved on expecting to find Phil’s family amongst the crowds but alas, no show. At mile 14 along the beach we spotted them. Phil’s son was hysterically happy to see his dad. Running toward him we stopped as they shared a father son moment. Here was Daddy doing this massive race and his son so proud greeting him as some sort of super hero!
I had never done this with my lot. This was unheard of. We had stopped in a race! Nothing wrong with us, just stopped for a chat and a cuddle.
Shame on me.
It was a moment and so glad it was caught on camera. I have hundreds of running photos and guess what, the majority of them are the same. Apart from the vest I’m wearing they are either of me running or with a medal. I do not possess a single photo like the one caught that day (see below) and I can’t wait to get one for myself with the twins.
I learnt a lesson at mile 14 of the Bournemouth marathon. It not always about a finish time. This distance requires dedication, hours of practice at the craft and sacrifice. It is felt not only by the person running it but the family who have to endure extended periods of Dad not being around ‘cos he’s out on a run, again. Without referring to my spreadsheet the only thing I can remember that has any significance from the day was mile 14. There are more important things in life than being competitive and I have a real respect for Phil’s ethics and mile 14. He often disagrees with my obsessions for running and the frequency of which I do them. He has told me on countless occasions to reign it in etc. Sometimes I listen and sometimes I don’t. But I digress….
The rest of the race was a war as we hit mile 19 we had pushed too hard, too early, Phil’s feet were busted with the blistering and the battle was now on to finish. As we slowed down the muscles started to stiffen and it was a struggle as Phil started cramping up. Not enough M&M’s etc I thought.
The less said about what happened next the better but we caught Ben walking the opposite way from the race. He had burnt out but from the point of no return. He decided not to join our death march to the finish line. We stopped every so often where I would have to massage Phil’s calves. Credit to Phil his mind stayed strong throughout. There was very little negativity which impressed me. I would have been much worse company had that of been me. One thing I bizarrely enjoy about long distance running is overcoming the low points and trying to maintain a happy mind. From experience I have learnt to tolerate it but for a novice that has not experienced the sensation of when there is nothing left in the tank it can be very challenging. Ben had thrown it in that day but I bet if he looked back he could of finished it (despite being unhappy about his finish time). In Phil’s shoes I would have probably thrown it in but it is the slog and determination of not quitting at the marathons that shows the character. The day seemed to drag on from mile 20 to 24. Phil managed to pick it up at the end and crossed the line in 4:21 as if nothing was wrong. Anyone who knows him will know he is a bit of a showman. Good time considering all the things that went wrong that day and stopping for a chat!
Big day for all and a marathon I would love to return to one day please…. (Hoping Ben and Phil agree?). I feel there is still unfinished business for all three of us down in Bournemouth.
Sometimes it isn’t about a time and not all heroes wear capes
Phil and his family are good at photos and available for weddings