running blog

Clive Whaley

1986 Marathon

Unfinished Business Part 4

Day 83 - Marathon Training - 50 mins with progressive pace increase

The clocks went forward last night and this was the first proper Sunday Spring run with fellow club members. A lovely day but …

Back to the story about my ill-fated involvement in the 1986 London Marathon, that resulted in this undignified posture somewhere around mile 21 …
The words are from a diary account written soon after the day. "They took me from the wheelchair into another ambulance. It was an effort for me to turn over onto my side, so that they could pull my shorts down and push a thermometer up me bum - it gave a reading of 103F. An hour and three readings later and after several moppings down with a tepid sponge by Pat (St John's Ambulance worker) it was still 103. A doctor spoke to me and reckoned that I must have been running with a fever "Did you have a sore thoat or a cold in the last week?" (Well, sort of … could it really have done this to me?) The doctor said if the temperature didn't come down soon I would have to go to casualty.

It seems odd to say it but, for a while in that ambulance, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was so relaxed and still a bit crazy in the head. I felt really happy and I think I may have even said so. I mentioned that all praise for the St John's Ambulance service was thoroughly deserved. In fact they were the best organisation in the world.

Eventually, as I started to cool down and It became clear that I was going to be stuck there for some time and that I may not be able to stagger into the Founders Arms as the wounded hero, my mood dropped. The only thing that kept me going was Pat - my large, jolly ambulance volunteer - who kept up a running commentary on the race outside, "Oh look there's Emu … that must be Roy Hudd …. Ooooo there's a crocodile, Oh my goodness! No! … there's six of them … there's a doctor friend of mine running, I must have missed him."

They brought another guy into the ambulance who was shivering - at times it was confusing for Pat because she couldn't remember which of us to heat up and which to cool down. He had a rich Welsh accent and didn't want to be there, "How far are we from the finish?… How far! … Oh God! I so wanted a medal … I really wanted a medal… I think I'll carry on … How far are we from the finish?"

I think it was a couple of hours before my temperature came down to levels where they felt it was safe to let me go. At first they suggested I catch a tube to Westminster and then walk across the bridge (where the finish was in those days). There was no way I was going to do that. They wrapped me in a silver Mars space blanket and pointed me in the direction of Monument underground station. I hobbled very very slowly and some cheeky kid shouted "I bet your legs are tired!" A few steps further on a well-meaning young woman said "Well done!" It was cruel and painful going down the steps onto the platform and once I'd slumped into a seat on the carriage I noticed that it was full of tourists, most of whom seemed to be taking photos of me. I closed my eyes and leant against the window.

In a thousand to one coincidence of timing and circumstance, as I stepped off the train at Embankment, I was staring Maia* in the face. I leaned on her wearily and rested my head on her shoulders. There was someone to lead me out of hell and take me home."

*Maia was my girlfriend of about one month's standing at the time. She helped me find the finish area and the bus containing my bag of clothes. I got changed on an almost empty bus with a guy that had taken 6 hours to finish. Three years later Maia and I got married. It still bugs me that, because I didn't finish, I didn't get a Mars Bar.

Unfinished Business Part 3

Day 70 - Marathon Training - Rest
Just resting today, so time to continue with the story …

I started but didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. In earlier blog extracts I have explained the lead up to the moment in this photo - Yes, that's me looking completely spaced out, being helped along by a thoughtful fellow runner near the Tower of London. The extracts which follow are from a diary I wrote a few days after the event …
"I can remember feeling tired, VERY tired and feeling as though I was leaning forwards, as if I was perpetually running uphill. I was aware that a lot of runners were passing me and was vaguely aware of some people walking and thinking how nice that looked - what a comforting thought, to be walking rather than running. I remember at one point seeing things blurred at the side of my vision. But I feel as though I went on for some time after that …

I have a vision of running in blackness with a runner either side helping me and trying to kindly persuade them to carry on without me, "I'll be alright". I remember going down twice - once on hands and knees and desperately groping onwards and another time just sitting down like a baby with reassuring voices around me telling me to stay as I was for a while. I thought that sounded like a good idea and I nodded. I don't think I'd given up at that point. It wouldn't be long before I'd be off again. I had to be sensible and take a breather, although I hadn't wanted to stop…

I came round in an ambulance. I was home. For a few moments there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be - reassuring words were floating towards me, I was resting flat on my back unable to move but it was over.

With vague consciousness, my first worries were for those who wouldn't now meet me at The Founders Arms - could these people get a message to them? - Oh and also to my parents who must have seen me collapse on TV - could they ring them? I started reeling out names and phone numbers - I think I was going under again because I couldn't get more than one digit out at a time without a rest. I think they only humoured me anyway.

A doctor gave me a couple of glucose tablets and I was nearly sick - I tried to take them out. They lifted my head and gave me cool, sweet water. There was someone else in the ambulance - she was complaining about mud splattered on her tights.

Three people (I think) lifted me into a wheelchair, wrapped a blanket around me and transferred me to another ambulance. I was conscious enough to quip, 'Isn't there a rule against this … if you start on foot, you're not allowed to finish in a wheelchair'.

Unfinished Business Part 2

Day 65 - Marathon Training - NO RUNNING - KNEE STILL INJURED

As I am on enforced rest, I will continue with my story of Unfinished Business …
So how did I come to be 'dazed and confused', sitting on the cobbles by the Tower of London on Marathon Day in 1986?

It all started with a bet.

I was working in my first permanent full time job as an Executive Officer for The Sports Council at their head office in London. We were offered complimentary places each year in the London Marathon and I took up one of the places, alongside my colleague and friend Nick, who worked in the Research Unit. Nick and I were good friends but we were also both very competitive. One night in the pub we had a very public bet, witnessed by a number of colleagues, as to who would run fastest in the Marathon. Five pounds was a reasonable amount at the time but it wasn't the money so much as the pride and competitive spirit that was attached to the bet that mattered most.

The following extracts are from a diary I kept at the time:

"I was a little worried towards the end of the week - I had a sore throat and headaches - nothing really bad, but not exactly how I wanted to feel a few days before the Big Day. Nick had a bit of a cold too - at least we were both suffering. I put it down as a mild cold, pre race nerves and a couple of bad days at work - and, as I was feeling fine on Saturday, I thought - NO Problem!

The day of the marathon dawned wet, windy and cool but not cold. Blackheath was fairly wet and miserable. The coffee tent was bursting at the seams - a few drinking coffee - but most were sheltering from the rain and the wind. With 5 minutes to go the old track suits, t-shirts and bin liners were flung off. A minute to go and we were released and allowed to walk/jog towards the line. Then crunch … a gun went, everyone cheered and then started shouting "Charlie" (the starter was Prince Charles). I looked to the right and saw him in his raincoat - he looked rather bewildered by it all. He could have been a spitting image puppet - I could swear his ears were flapping.

The first 6 miles at the very least were fine. Although the first mile had taken about 8 and a half minutes, by the 6 mile marker we were on 6 and a half minute mile pace, so we must have 'shifted up a gear' and we were still on that pace at 9 miles. Just after crossing Tower Bridge I had to stop to re-do a shoelace (I got an 'Aah' from the crowd!) and then had to work really hard to catch up again with Nick. We went through half way at 1 hour 26 minutes.

I think the lace incident might have been the starting point. A little after that I think I knew I was slowing. At about the 14 mile stage I started to drop back from Nick. I don't remember anything being severely wrong. I just felt strangely tired. I even thought 'come on! you're on form today and there's only one London Marathon, so you can afford to push it a bit' - but I was probably already losing my marbles at this point.

Looking back it is one of the strangest experiences of my life. I've tried to piece it together from my own recollections and from people who actually saw me over those last few awful miles but I don't think I'll ever know exactly what happened or indeed why."

Unfinished Business Part 1

Day 57 - Marathon Training - 40 mins 'easy'

I have described my entry into this year's London Marathon as 'unfinished business'. This photograph explains why.
For the avoidance of doubt - this is me in the 1986 London Marathon. I didn't expect to get a finisher's photo. In fact I didn't expect to get any photo and yet, a few weeks after it was all over, I got a promo leaflet from Road Runner Photographic Services with a tiny thumbnail proof of this image attached. I bought a printed copy and it has stayed hidden in a drawer ever since.

For the further avoidance of doubt - NO, I didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. By the time this photo was taken, I don't even remembering entering the 1986 race, let alone starting it. I got to the finish via - a wheelchair, an ambulance and the London Underground - in that order.

I never went near the London Marathon again. That is … until now.

[Did my much needed 'recovery run' today - 40 minutes on soft surfaces. I'm a bit worried that my right knee is hurting quite a bit - a legacy from yesterday's 20 miles. In a day or two I will know whether it is anything serious or not.]