The 1st endurance challenge I ever set myself was the London Marathon 2002. I knew very little about endurance running as I came from a footballing background, so I took it seriously and trained very hard – perhaps too hard. 5 weeks before the race I tore my achilles tendon and that took nearly 4 weeks to heal, meaning I only did a couple of short runs before the race to give myself the best chance to run the full 26.2 miles. I was running for Multiple Sclerosis so the main thing was to get around and fulfil my part of the ‘bargain’. It was the 1st year Paula Radcliffe competed: she won in style and that really filtered through to us mere mortal runners. It was an incredible day, and my achilles held up so I gave it my all. I came home in 3hrs 10min – I was hoping for under 3 as I’d heard that was a decent time but I always thought I’d go back to it one day…..
12 years later (and hopefully 12 years wiser) on March 10th, 2014, I was sat at my computer and I saw a tweet from Duncan Shea-Simonds asking if anyone was interested in joining a 3man team to guide blind runner Haseeb Ahmad to run the London Marathon ‘(needs to be sub 3 comfortably)’. I was already heading to London that weekend to support a friend who was running, and we were staying at my Aunt and Uncle’s in Feltham which is where a certain Mr Mo Farah grew up. So, logistically it wasn’t a problem but as I wasn’t in training for a marathon the pace/conditioning might be. I responded to offer help, but also to ask for 24hrs to test where my running fitness was. I headed to the Lakes the following morning and did a 30km run, doing the last 10k (which was on the road) in just over 40mins relatively comfortably. I informed Duncan I was good to go and he put me in contact with Haseeb. We spoke on the phone and both felt positive about the whole thing. I did 2 more long runs, the last being 2 weeks before the race, and I felt ready. The 4 weeks leading up to the race I was very focused on being in the best possible shape to assist Haseeb come race day, as well as lots of mental prep, and this meant making sure absolutely everything ran smoothly once I was down there.
Haseeb and I arranged to meet on Friday 11th at the ExCel where we’d also register. We managed to arrive on time after a 15 mile bike ride across London in glorious sunshine. We did a short test run which I definitely benefited from, so we both left in a confident mood (although Haseeb accidentally left his wallet and phone with us for a time – the ExCel’s a BIG place to try and find someone!)
Sunday 13th April 2014 – The London Marathon
The 3 of us (Haseeb, Chris Sherwood and myself) met up around 10mins before the start where we had a last minute chat about tactics and scenarios, although we knew a lot would be spontaneous. The goal was simply to finish under 3hrs. I watched Chris expertly guide Has at close quarters to start with, and I was just helping as much as I could with gels/drinks etc. We got to around 8 miles and I started to feel it my quads – which was a little early for my liking – so instead of following the guys, which meant slight changes of pace negotiating people etc, I ran the next 5miles or so off the back of them. I just felt that I wanted to conserve my legs as much as possible, ready for the second half. I incrementally made my way back to the guys, picking up two Lucozade gels just after half-way and stashing them, then took over the guiding duties from Chris.
I was now ready to up my game and focus on guiding and pacing us home.
By 20 miles my quads were very sore but my energy was good, so that’s what I focused on. After a couple of missed callings of speed bumps I quickly got into my stride with guiding. Haseeb obviously makes the job easier as he is an intuitive runner who really knows what he’s doing. I never race with a watch as I like to run completely off how I feel but today was different: Has wanted to know exactly where we were. I called distance and time regularly, knowing the the last 5km would be key. Haseeb had already put in a lot of effort so his energy was slowly diminishing, but we kept the pace up despite it getting harder and harder. 385 yards to go and we had less than 2mins to dip under 3hrs. However, the thing was by this time we weren’t so much running. We got to about 20m from the line in 2:59:10 and I knew we’d cross the finishing line walking, which was all Has needed to do at this point. I wanted Has to cross the line first and he did with an incredible time of 2:59:23 – amazing. Has kept going through all the pain but by the end he was totally spent and the medical team came in, put him on a stretcher and took him away.
Obviously I was a little apprehensive about his condition at the finish line – had I pushed him too much? I just did what I would have wanted someone to do for me in the same position. You can’t go back and say ‘Well if I’d have known, I’d have done X,Y & Z’ – it has to be there and then.
After being looked after by the superb St John’s Ambulance, 45mins after crossing the line Has was back on his feet and ready to head to the Guide Dogs reception with me. We were cheered and clapped as we were the 1st ones back – both of us were straight onto the massage tables!
I met two incredible, inspirational guys that weekend and I’m a better person for it.