It’s London, Baby!

Sunday 21st April was the biggest date of the running calendar. According to, the London Marathon is the second biggest marathon in the world by finisher numbers, around 48,000 in 2023, but is the hardest marathon in the World to get into (an estimated half a million people enter the ballot each year). This year 22 Harriers toed the various start lines in Greenwich Park.

London wasn’t the only marathon in the world on Sunday, however. Club legend and regular Parkrun and Marathon tourist, Susie Ivin, made the trip over the weekend to Vienna to take on the Vienna City Marathon. Susie has her privacy settings on Strava set to followers only, so I can’t trawl it to manufacture a quote, but she looked happy before the race. She completed the course in a speedy 4:27:48.

She definitely seems happy

Also on London Marathon day was the Shakespeare Marathon set, unsurprisingly, in Stratford on Avon. According to the website, “The route heads from the town centre, past the racecourse, into Luddington & Welford-on-Avon before joining the Stratford Greenway back into Stratford-upon-Avon. The half marathon will head into the Recreation Ground from there. The marathon will complete a 2nd, extended loop, which also heads through Long Marston, before returning to the Recreation Ground for the finish”. Sounds lovely. If I wasn’t busy in London I’d have considered it myself.

The full cast

5 Harriers made the trip to Stratford, 2 of them as last minute sign ups. Andy Bishop, Sam Raffety and Andy Watt had done a lot of their long runs together, and had been signed up for many months to the race. Kim Morgan had suffered from sickness during her Paris marathon a few weeks ago and was determined to run fast enough to qualify for a Good for Age place for the London Marathon in 2025. Kim’s training partner and fellow Paris runner, Roly Kendall also signed up late and agreed to help Kim pace her attempt to go below the required 3:48:00.

Andy and Sam’s target was to finish the course in under 4 hours. They ran some of the race together, but were separated before the end, with Andy pulling away from Sam. Andy finished in 3:55:26. I’m not sure what Andy’s PB is, but I am guessing from his Strava comment of “GET IN THERE!!!” that he was happy with his morning’s work. Perhaps slightly less happy about Andy’s time was Simon Morris, whose recent bromance must be considered over as Gary Kingsley commented, “Well done, Andy! I want to have your babies”. Sam was definitely happy with her time of 3:56:14, commenting, “Last 3 miles of trail were brutal but over the moon with my PB.” She didn’t pass comment on Gary’s proposal.

Unclear where Andy Bishop is?

Slightly further behind on the road, but no less happy with the outcome, was Andy Watt. I spoke to him a few weeks ago on a long run and he told me that he was looking forward to running the race but had no real target in mind. I wish I were able to be that relaxed about running a marathon! In any case, Andy seemed very happy with his time of 4:26:04, commenting that, “The goal was to finish.” Sam Raffety probably put it a bit better when she said, “Loved training and running with you today Andy. Well done for finishing a challenging course. Enjoy the beer and curry!”

Earlier on, Roland and Kim had set off on Kim’s mission to better the London GFA time for her age group. This time there was no sickness and no disappointment. Kim finished with an official time of 3:45:46, to be third in her age category and comfortably inside the qualifying time. Although this no longer guarantees a starting berth at London, the qualifying times were all adjusted downwards this year, so being more than two minutes under the mark will probably be good enough. Roland, on pacing duty, finished one place and one second behind Kim on Gun Time, with the same chip time.

They managed to stick together this time

And so to London. For the club this had become a bit of a ritual with runners and supporters alike meeting at St John’s Church to take a coach to Greenwich Park early in the morning, at 6:00AM. This year felt for the first time as if numbers, and enthusiasm, had returned to pre-pandemic levels as there were 25 or so runners (including some non-GVH guests) and the coach felt nearly full.

Steve Newing as treasurer of the club has long been trusted to organise the London marathon coach. He was spotted in tense conversation with the driver just before we departed and then most of us were slightly surprised when, instead of continuing up to the M1, the coach took a detour into Adeyfield. The reason became clear when Steve’s wife Clare was spotted brandishing a piece of paper near Queen’s Square. The printed coach pass is a very important piece of paper that must be shown to allow access through the roadblocks into Greenwich on the morning of the race so it was a little surprising that Steve’s normally immaculate admin was found slightly wanting.

The drama of the coach journey didn’t end there though. After last year’s LooLindenGate scandal, we had paid for the toilet on the coach to be usable. With the bigger numbers on show it was certainly needed. Unfortunately somebody who shall remain nameless borrowed my marathon toilet roll and then somehow managed to flush the whole roll down the toilet. This was an unexpected and slightly bizarre outcome. As I said at the time, “You are a grown up Mary, I thought you would know how to safely use a toilet by now.”

Early drama on London Marathon day

Even that was not the biggest piece of drama as it became apparent that the coach driver really had no idea where we were going. The first clue was when she drove straight past the M11 exit from the M25 and continued on down to cross the Dartford Crossing. The levels of concern then raised slightly when we did 2 complete circuits of a roundabout, twice ignoring the sign that said “London”, seemingly considering the opposite sign saying, “Dover and France”.

Having then finally chosen the London road, eyebrows were further raised when we crossed through the Blackwall Tunnel, going north, thus on to the wrong side of the River. A drive through Poplar, never the nicest part of the actual marathon route was then followed by a journey into a dead end in what looked like a remnant of a 1960s council sink estate. After a farcical Austin Powers 39 point turn impression, matters were taken into our own hands as Stu Gallagher and Heather Timmiss then moved to the front of the coach to explain how to get us all to the start line.

Heather and Stu did the business and got us all to the start on time. One casualty, however, was the photo of the whole group that is normally taken just after we get off the coach and before we split up to go our separate ways to our separate start zones. On reflection, our collective panic was a little bit over the top since it was still only 8:00AM when we all got off the coach, and the first start waves weren’t until 10:00AM.

In the green start area, Nick Crowther, Stu Gallagher and James Birnie were all getting underway in wave 1, at 10:00AM. The three didn’t push to the front of the zone, preferring the quicker athletes to run off ahead, but rather had a leisurely chat and a slow walk to the finish line. Nick took what I can only guess is a lovely start line tri-elfi, but since he hasn’t shared it back to us, I can’t say for sure.

The Green Start crew and a couple of interlopers

From my perspective, Nick pretty quickly disappeared into the distance, showing his usual metronomic ability to churn out what would become another sub 3 hour time, while Stu was running more conservatively. I was hoping that my hamstring would hold up long enough to get to the end of the race without too much pain and was trying to run to about a 7 minute mile pace (failed miserably).

Earlier in the week I had spoken to Tom Langdown. He has broken 4 marathon World Records. One for running a marathon dressed as a tap, one dressed in a full suit of chainmail, one dressed as a rhino (clearly a Rhino, Radzi!) and I’m not sure what the other is. Maybe he’s counting the time he finished the race quicker than the previous world record for being pyjama clad, but wasn’t the fastest pyjama wearer on the day? This year, he told me, he was attempting to break the world record for the fastest marathon by a person dressed as Tom Langdown. I interpreted that as “I’m not doing it in ridiculous fancy dress this year”, but you can never be sure with Tom.

Fastest Marathon dressed as Tom Landown

For once, a few of the Harriers met on the course. I met Heather about 7 miles in when she told me she had lost all of her gels, something of a nightmare so early in the race, but at least, as I told her, there were Lucozade gel stations that she could stock up at later. I also told her that she would overtake me before the end. As it transpired, I was overtaken by Gareth Tucker, Michael Linden, Heather and Stu (I think in that order) in a very short space of time around 20 – 21 miles. I assume Tom Langdown also overtook me, but either he didn’t see me or he ignored me, and I certainly didn’t spot him (he was dressed, unusually for him, in running gear, of course).

This man was running very strongly

As it turned out we all finished within a few minutes of each other, as the first 7 GVH runners were separated by only 10 minutes or so on chip times. The fastest three on the day were separated by only 10 seconds and all recorded new PBs. Nick managed 2:58:08, Gareth 2:58:10 and Tom managed 2:58:18, comfortably achieving the “Fastest Marathon dressed as Tom Langodown” World Record. Michael managed 3:01:16, Stu finished in 3:07:43, Heather comfortably ducked under the Championship race qualifying mark in 3:07:46 and I hobbled over the line in 3:08:46. Michael summed up the mood afterwards, commenting, “3 hours and 1 minute. Great running experience with Gade Valley Harriers. Thanks everyone for their support this year.”

Solid time, good job

Rob Hawkes was the next Harrier to finish, in a great time of 3:18:55. Rob said later, “On reflection I was very pleased. Not quite a pb but really had to dig in when my calf started to cramp.” Steve Newing finished in 3:22:00. I spoke to him in the pub afterwards but I was too drunk by then to remember what he said. I don’t think it was quite a PB as I seem to recall he ran a faster time a couple of years ago in Manchester. Gwyn Pritchard was next, finishing in 3:23:38, I don’t think I saw him after the race, but I can’t be sure.

Looking strong at this point

Chris Dowling is more of an ultra marathon runner these days but still managed a speedy 3:30:04. I’m certain Chris has run much faster than this in the past, so I’m not sure if he is preparing for some multi day ultra marathon madness, has been nursing an injury or just fancied a gentle jog. Rob Bowler was next, and definitely not having a gentle jog. He has been training very hard and very diligently for the past few months and his time of 3:31:20, whilst a few minutes shy of his V60 club record time set 2 years ago, is comfortably inside the newly trimmed Good For Age qualifying time for his category.

Great run, great pose

David Wood was next to finish for GVH, in 3:39:42. I didn’t see him after the race and I can’t find him on Strava so I can’t use a Strava comment and pretend he said it to me directly. He did comment on the handicap thread that he was feeling tired after the marathon though. Phil Mercer finished in 3:41:28, a solid time considering how little his busy work schedule has allowed him to train.

The Blue Start crew

Club chairman Andy Cook wasn’t far behind Phil, finishing in 3:47:21. Andy’s ambition had been tempered by illness in recent weeks, having originally intended to pace his daughter, Alice through the race. He told me before that he would try to “keep up” with Alice for 10 miles or so and then jog to the end, “even if I have to run walk and I take 20 minutes a mile”. It looks like he did a bit better than that revised target as he was only 13 minutes behind Alice, who finished in 3:34:40.

Best ever family portrait

Laura Johnson was the last of the Harriers to manage a sub 4 hour time, and she was very happy with her achievement, saying she had an “…amazing experience! Tower Bridge was absolutely unforgettable – couldn’t be happier with how that went. Chip time 3.57 and a PB by 19 minutes!”

Rich Peters was the next finisher, in 4:30:10, a few minutes ahead of Anthony Fogden, who managed 4:38:08. Anthony was the recipient of the club’s ballot place for the race and was competing in his first marathon. He was humbled by the support from the club throughout the training period, singling out Angeline Cottrill, Jen Brown and Andy Newing for their help and also said that “Sunday was one of the greatest days of my life. A day I will never forget and will probably talk about forever!” He also was proud to have raised around £1700 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Helen Cook was exactly a minute behind Anthony’s chip time, finishing in 4:39:08, capping a great day of family marathon running for the Cooks (I spent my pub budget on Chris and Teresa last week so no space for “Too many Cooks”). Angeline Cottrill had an eventful day, finishing her marathon in 5:15:56. She said, “I very nearly didn’t start  as I felt poorly with a tight chest and feeling generally not well in the night. I was supposed to start in wave 9 but decided to start a bit later with my buddies, Jen [Brown] & Anthony [Fogden] so I had some company. I made it mile 18 and then sent Jen on without me so I could get checked out, then spent 24 minutes coughing up a lung, and being checked over before continuing. The atmosphere was electric. Whilst I was aiming for 4:35, I honestly don’t care that I didn’t do that today as I loved it all so much.” And the medal is really good, Ange.

All about the Bling for Angeline

Club president Andy Newing was competing in his (alleged) last marathon as he had won a ballot place. He had not been a regular at all in recent years so we were all pleased to see him back pounding the streets. I had bumped into Andy a couple of times during the training block and he was enthusiastically looking forward to one last go around London. He was very pleased with his time of 5:38:40. Charlie Costin is another who has recently made a return to the club. He was seen training again through the winter and he was the last of the Mighty GVH to finish the race in 6:53:55.

I have no recollection of posing for this photograph

As always, the London Marathon is a highlight of the year. Congratulations to everybody who took part, we all know how much goes into the preparation and the day itself. There are still a few more marathons to be completed this Spring, so now I, for one, am looking forward to going to Edinburgh in a few weeks for the Edinburgh Marathon where I will be doing nothing more than watching and drinking. I might consider running again soon, but not just yet. I’m in awe of those that managed to get round the handicap this Thursday after running marathons at the weekend.