It was a big day in the calendar of one of Bournemouth AC‘s most experienced and most consummate long distance runners when Andy Gillespie took to the start line for the 2019 Salisbury 54321 50k. Not because it was a 50k ultra marathon though and not because it was in his neck of the woods either.
The reason was that with 99 races of at least marathon distance already counted and verified on his CV, this was the one that was going to take him to that magic landmark of 100 marathons.
The magnitude of an achievement such as that is difficult to put into words but it does come with a suitably prestigious accolade – and that is an official membership to the exclusive 100 Marathon Club.
This was something Andy has been on a quest to achieve for quite some years now but the amount or hard work and dedication that goes into reaching a milestone like that is almost unfathomable.
Of course, he did still have the small matter of completing a 50k race to deal with first before he could think about celebrating his monumental achievement – and that wasn’t something that would come easily, even for a man of Andy’s worldliness.
The Salisbury 54321 50k course is actually extremely tough. It’s around 31 miles in old money and features 3,000 ft of elevation along the way. That said, it’s not as it Andy hasn’t faced this sort of challenge before.
In fact, he’s competed in the Salisbury 54321 50k in each of the last five years, dating back to 2014. Before that he did the 42k for five consecutive years starting from 2008.
The fastest time he’s ever done the 50k race in is 5:03:10, which he did in 2016. Originally he was intending on trying for the sub five hour time but since it was in his own back yard and he knew quite a few of the other runners who were doing it, it became a bit more of a social run.
As each person who he knew overtook him he would have a good chat with them and it was the same at the drinks stations and so on. For over a mile on one of the steadier climbs he had a chat with Jon Sharkey’s wife.
Quite early on in the run Andy made the decision not to do anything stupid that might put his 100 milestone in jeopardy and to make sure he finished.
Reaching the 23K point in 2 hours 17 minutes and 37 seconds, Andy was in 132nd place at that stage. He then arrived at the 32k checkpoint in 3:26:16.
Even though he wasn’t going out all guns blazing though, 50k is still a fair way to go and it was a warm day. With a bit of emotion also thrown into the mix, it all took its toll on Andy by the end.
At one point, as he was coming through Salisbury, someone handed Andy a pint of lager, which he says didn’t even touch the sides. By then of course, he had already decided just to enjoy it and savour every moment.
At the 42k checkpoint Andy was in 125th place, clocking in at 4:42:19. That left just 8k to go before he’d completed the race and hit the big hundred.
There was a lovely moment at the end as well where Andy’s granddaughter ran the last 200 yards with him and as they crossed the line, she took the medal as she was under the impression she had beaten him.
Recording an official time of 5:41:02, Andy came in in 117th place out of a field of 301. He also took 3rd place in the M60 category but of course, this race wasn’t about times. It was about completion. Not just of one race but of a whole collection. Of a phase in his life that took him further than he ever thought he would go.
Even though he was out there for 5 hours and 41 minutes, the run just seemed to be over in in a flash to Andy. Well, they do say that time flies when you’re having fun.
That really just epitomizes what Andy’s running is all about though. He enjoys the endurance aspect of it. He thrives off the challenge of completing distances most people wouldn’t even contemplate attempting. That’s what gets him going and keeps him coming back for me and continuing relentlessly, year after year.
It was a proud moment for Andy after the race as he was presented with his 100 Marathon Club medal and shirt and some of the other runners stuck around for a piece of his rather tasty looking 100 Marathon cake.
He’d made it. He’d achieved something that way back when he ran his first marathon, he never would have thought was possible. But through, hard work, determination and dedication, he had reached the magic milestone.
It was on Sunday 20th June 2004, in Blackpool, that Andy’s marathon adventure began. Back then of course he had no idea that he’d be taking to the start line of a marathon 99 more times.
His time for that first marathon was 4:00:24. Later on that year he competed in the Abingdon Marathon where he cracked the four-hour mark, finishing in 3:57:18.
The next year he did his first London Marathon before recording a new PB of 3:44:32 at Abingdon in October. The following year, he secured a new PB of 3:33:50 at London and later that year went on to complete the Loch Ness Marathon.
On 16th June 2007 he did his first ever trail marathon, along the South Downs Way. That was a marathon he’d go on to complete several more times over the years that followed.
On Sunday 10th August 2008 he did his first Salisbury 54321 event, completing the 42k race that day.
Over the weekend of 5th to 7th November 2010, Andy completed the Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge, which consisted of three marathons in three days, back-to-back.
That was a theme that Andy would go on to revisit numerous times in the years that followed and was one of the key factors that enabled him to reach the 100 milestone so quickly. It effectively meant killing off three birds with one stone.
The following year, on Sunday 17th April 2011, Andy recorded his all-time marathon PB of 3:27:36 at London. It was a very good time for someone who, by his own admission, doesn’t fall into the category of a ‘fast runner’ per se.
On Sunday, 21st June 2011, Andy took part in his first ever ultra, which was the 32 mile Dorset Doddle. He completed the course in 7 hours 18 minutes. He went on to compete in that race for the next four years running.
Over the weekend of 4th to 6th October 2013, Andy completed his first Atlantic Coast Challenge, which was another three marathons in three days event, this time along the coast of Cornwall.
In August 2014, he did his first 50k race at the Salisbury 54321 event, completing the course in a time of 5:16:30.
A couple of months later, he returned to the Atlantic Coast Challenge, where the third marathon of the three brought him to his landmark 50th marathon. Did he want to stop there? Not on your nelly. He was hungry for more. Much, much more.
Over the weekend of 20th to 22nd March 2015, Andy completed his first Jurassic Coast Challenge, which took place on the coast of Dorset. He was remarkably consistent in that one, completing the three marathons in 5:51:08, 5:52:04 and 6:10:46.
A month later he went on to run the London Marathon in a time of 3:49:13, which was a very good result. Then on Sunday, 14th August 2016 he recorded his fastest 54321 Salisbury 50k, completing the race in 5:03:10.
Two further races in December that year saw Andy reach the milestone of 70 marathons. He was now well on his way toward the big 100 and there was simply no stopping him.
As he’s matured through the years, Andy has gradually began to take on more and more marathons throughout the years, each time adding new ones to his repertoire whilst continuing to return to each of the ones he’d previously done. That technique has helped him massively wrack up his numbers over the past few years.
His last sub-four-hour marathon was on 23rd April 2017 at London, where he finished in a time of 3:58:10, proving that even as a wily old fox, he’d still got it. Then a week later he was back out there for the North Dorset Village Marathon.
The three Atlantic Coast Marathons later that year took Andy up to 80 marathons, leaving him with just 20 to go to reach treble figures.
In May 2018, Andy added the Devon Coastal Challenge to his long list of marathon exploits and that went on to be the first year where he had completed three Coast Challenges. He also took part in the Jurassic and the Atlantic Coast Challenges.
His total of number of marathons for the year went up to 11 in 2018, after he also completed the North Dorset Village Marathon and the 54321 Salisbury 50k.
By the start of 2019 he was on 92 marathons, leaving him with just eight to go. In March this year he completed the Jurassic Coast Challenge, which another three ticked off the list.
In May he took on the North Dorset Village Marathon for the fourth consecutive year before the Devon Coastal Challenge in May brought him up to 99 leaving him with just that final one to complete the set.
Now that he’s done that one, he’s penciled his name down on that very exclusive list of runners who have managed to successfully negotiate 100 marathons. Most of them would have probably taken a lot longer than Andy has to do it though.
He’s completed all of his marathons in the space of 15 years, which is a pretty incredible achievement. That’s an average of almost 7 per year.
What’s all the more impressive is that Andy has managed to get through every single one of his marathons without a single DNF. That might also be something that perhaps not too many members of the 100 Marathon Club can say and speaks volumes about the character and courage of the man.
Out of all of his 100 marathons, the PB of 3:27:36 at London in 2011 would have to go down as his best performance. Certainly from a training and speed perspective anyway.
That year Andy did all the Bourrnemouth AC Tuesday night sessions when they had Steve Way and Liz Yelling pushing them on. The race went perfectly to plan and Andy managed to achieve his goal of a sub 3:30 time. Not bad for a ‘slow mo’ eh.
Until then he’d always been jinxed with the London Marathon and something always seemed to go wrong either before or during the race. He has thought though that sometimes, when things have gone badly, it’s a good performance just to finish so you shouldn’t be too disheartened about the time.
It would be hard for Andy to pick a favourite but he does always enjoy the 3-day events. The Pembrokeshire one that they used to have in November in particular stands out. Because the clocks had gone back at that time of year, it was usually dark by the time he finished. And the weather was always cold and wet.
Andy remembers coming through Fishguard on the third day of one of them and a bloke asked him how far he had run. Andy told him “about 70 miles”. He then heard the guy turn and say to the lady he was with “moron reckons he’s run 70 miles!!” It did make Andy giggle to himself.
There used to only be about 40 to 50 competitors and the wildlife and scenery on the route was amazing, not to mention the spirit that grew each day between the runners.
There were only ever about three of four people at the finish with no spectators. It was the complete opposite to the London Marathon. Sitting by the log fire in the pub on the Sunday night is something Andy remembers very fondly.
Although he did successfully managed to complete all the marathons he started, there were a couple of times that Andy came close to a DNF. One time was the Dorset Doddle in 2012. It was 32 miles from Weymouth to Swanage.
The weather that summer had been wet for weeks but on the day it turned out to be 56 degrees and blistering sunshine. Andy sweats a lot at the best of times but as fast as he took on board the sports drinks he sweated them back out again. He even stopped off for a shower in a surfer’s bay at Kimmerage. After getting half way up the big hill at Chapman Pool he just sat down.
If a helicopter had come round the corner at that point he would have got on it. He managed to pick himself up and get to the next checkpoint about two miles from there.
He ate what they had at the checkpoint and sat in the shade for a few minutes, then went again. As he hit Swanage he bought an ice cream which quickly melted and ran down his legs as he shuffled along the seafront.
When he bought the ice cream the guy in the shop commented that he looked hot, to which Andy replied saying that he’d just run all the way from Weymouth. The shop assistant then came back with the ultimate response of “Why?”
As they carried on chatting Andy had to ask him to hurry with the change as it was a race after all. Almost 150 people pulled out of the race that year.
He almost failed to complete the first day of the Atlantic Coast Challenge in 2016 as well. That was due to illness. Once he got to Newquay the organisers asked him to consider not carrying on.
He battled on though and as she caught and passed him, one lady said he sounded like a pug. At the next checkpoint the organisers tried to pull him out and Andy had to quickly leg it when they turned their backs. You’re never too old to pull a stunt like that if needs must.
That year Andy was unable to complete days two and three but since they were separate marathons and he didn’t register for them on the day, they didn’t count as official DNF’s. He was still peeved though.
It was in the Atlantic Coast Challenge of 2015 that Andy had his worst running experience when a guy in front of him tripped up and rolled towards the cliff edge. Andy and the others screamed at him to grab hold something.
If he had rolled one more time he would have gone over and it was a good 100 ft drop from there. It was a very close call and Andy and the others helped him back up. He didn’t seem to realise how lucky he was and seemed to be more concerned about just finding his glasses.
It was at St Agnes coast guard station on day two and Andy still remembers it vividly to this day. He will no doubt be tip toeing through there when he gets to that point again this year.
There have been a few challenges, both mental and physical along the way but that’s the whole point of it really. You either give in to your doubts and fears or you overcome them. Andy is of the firm belief that once you know you can succeed at something, you will get there in the end, not matter what. After all, that’s why they invented paracetamol, right?
It is thought that Andy might even be the first ever Bournemouth AC member to reach the 100 marathon milestone which is something that he can be immensely proud of, especially when you think of all the athletes who have pulled on the coveted yellow and blue vest over the years.
Andy’s story is a testament to the fact that with the right attitude and the right level of commitment and determination, anyone can achieve their dreams. You just have to go out there, give your all and make it happen.
What now though? Now he’s hit the big hundred, are there any signs of him hanging up his marathon shoes or turning his attentions to some shorter, easier stuff? Of course not. In fact, Andy can’t wait to get out there for his next big challenge.
At the moment he’s struggling with a few niggles but is hoping to be on the start line for the next Atlantic Coast Challenge in six weeks time. Then once he gets going, the target will then change to making it to day three.
Now he’s reached that esteemed landmark he’s now going to have to start thinking about and working towards his next big target. What that will be is yet to be determined though. Is there a 200 Marathon Club?