For many, it’s the showpiece event of the UK running calendar, and the London Marathon never fails to deliver it’s fair share of stories, both of success and of heartache. One of the most intriguing aspects of marathon running is that you never quite know how it’s going to go. You can do all the training in the world to get yourself in the best possible shape for it, but there are still no guarantees. If you don’t get it right on the day your hopes and dreams can easily come crashing down around you.
After performing extremely well at the Wrexham Elite Marathon in the Spring and recording new PBs both Rob McTaggart and Rich Brawn had high hopes of doing well at London. Tag registered an outstanding 2:25:40 that day and Rich came in with a 2:45:52 which was a cracking result by his standards. They both felt that if they trained well over the summer, they could have a chance of bettering their times at London.
Sanjai Sharma and Julian Oxborough were also running at London but they were perhaps not quite so confident of being at their best. Sanjai had been struggling with a hamstring injury over the summer. Then, just as it started to improve and he was able to run properly again, he went on holiday to Mauritius. That was for the whole of August and it was very difficult to train there when he was with his family. When he came back he only had four weeks worth of training left, so he knew it was going to be up against it to get fit and adequately prepared for London.
After catching a virus a week before London, Julian had been on antibiotics right up to the day before the race which had made it touch and go as to whether he would be able to compete. Having raised a lot of money for the NSPCC though, he was absolutely determined to get out there and do it, no matter what.
The illness did force him to reassess his goals for the race though and abandon his target time, instead proposing to go at an easy pace and make sure he could get all the way round.
Tag had been exhibiting some fine form in the build up toward London, winning the New Forest Half Marathon in 1 hour and 10 minutes which was a terrific time for an off-road course, even though the distance came up slightly short.
He’d also completed the Overton 5 Mile race in 25:26 and had registered a lightening quick 5000m PB of 14:55 at the Hercules Wimbledon 5000m Festival in August. Then a week before London he nailed the opening leg at the Aldershot Road Relays, getting round the 6k course in a tremendous time of 18:42. That was an average pace of 4:56, despite the route containing some undulations. He’d also done a lot of very strong sessions and fast paced long runs as well and it was clear he was in fine fettle.
Rich Brawn had been struggling with a knee injury over much of his marathon training block and that had made it difficult to run as much as he would have wanted. He made sure he got his marathon sessions and long runs done each week though and wasn’t prepared to give up on his London hopes.
He managed to record a new PB of 1:18:07 at the Run Dorney Half Marathon in a race where the course came up slightly long, meaning he’d actually gone through 13.1 miles in around 1:17. He was aiming for a sub 2:45 marathon so he felt that that put him roughly on course for it. He also ran well in the Overton 5, recording a time of 28:03 which was a 5 mile PB for him.
Three weeks before London he did a 20 mile race at the Marathon Training Day in MK event at Milton Keynes. He was hoping to run that at marathon pace, so around 6:15 minutes per mile. Unfortunately he somehow ended up chasing a runner who wasn’t actually in the race and who veered off course, taking Rich with him.
That meant he finished his fourth lap way before everyone else and had only done 18 miles so he thought he better go round again for a fifth lap. That would give him a run of 23.4 miles which was about the distance he wanted anyway. He ended up going through 20 miles in around 2 hours 5 minutes which put his average pace a 6:15. Then he continued to complete the 23.4 miles in a 6:19 average pace.
As his marathon warm up race, Julian completed the Battle of Sedgemoor 10k in just under 1 hour 18 minutes, which he was quite pleased with given it was a fairly hot day.
Starting off at around 5:20 sort of pace, which is incredibly quick for a marathon, Tag was going well in the early stages. In fact, for a few of the miles in the first 7 miles he was even quicker than that. He went through the first 5k in 16:35 and the second 5k in an even more ferocious 16:31. Reaching the half way stage in 1:10:10, Tag was going way quicker than he’d originally intended but he felt really strong.
On both previous occasions that Rich Brawn had run the marathon he’d started from Blackheath. This time though, he’d been posted to Greenwich instead. He didn’t think it would matter as he assumed he would still be in the first wave of regular runners starting from that location. When he got into the assembly area though, he realised there was a yellow wave that were starting before the red wave that he was in.
He found that a bit confusing as he wasn’t sure who would be in the yellow wave or why they would be starting ahead of him. When it was time for his wave to take to start line, he realised that the yellow wave seemed to have a lot of charity runners or slow runners in it. That meant he’d probably have to pick his way through quite a lot of people before he could get into a proper rhythm.
Once he got going, he soon realised it was going to be quite chaotic trying to get past all the yellow wave runners. He kept getting held up and having to slow down, then speed back up again after to try and hit his mile splits at the pace he was supposed to be going at. That meant he was exerting way more energy than he should be in the early stages of the race. It was really stressful for him.
Reaching the half way stage at 1:22:33, he was in the right ballpark to come in in around 2:45. Most of his splits for the first 17 miles of the race had been around 6:15 sort of pace or slightly faster, so on paper it was good. But in reality, it didn’t feel good. Whilst concentrating on trying to hit his mile splits, he’d been forgetting to take his gels and salt capsules at the right times. That was something that could prove costly.
After the half marathon marker, Tag had been going at roughly 5:25 pace for the next four miles. The 19th mile contains a testing climb and that was the first time Tag had been over 6 minutes per mile. He soon got back on pace though, with a 5:22 for the next mile.
Going through the 20 mile point in just over 1 hour 47 minutes, Tag thought he was on for something special. He was slowing by that stage though. Getting through the next three miles in 5:43, 5:34 and 5:41, it was only with 2.5 miles left that he hit some problems.
That was when he started getting cramp. After that, every time he tried to speed up, it happened again. He had to slow down a bit over the last couple of miles and his heart rate dropped a few beats then.
Despite that though, it had been a monumental effort from Tag and he made it to the line in 2 hours 24 minutes and 48 seconds which put him in 16th place out of the masses. To finish that high up in the London Marathon was a truly magnificent achievement.
He’d lost over a minute to a guy who had been sitting on his shoulder for five miles before he started having cramp issues so he knows he could have been even quicker had that not happened.
It was likely a fuelling issue though as he got a stitch after taking his first gel and that put him off taking anything further for the rest of the race. In fact, he didn’t even drink anything either, so it was no surprise that that caught up with him in the end.
It was a phenomenal performance though from Tag and that fact that he didn’t get everything exactly right and there are still things he needs to work on means he has scope to improve and potentially go even faster next time.
At the 17.5 mile point, Rich saw his dad watching and supporting from the side-lines. As his dad called out though, he turned round to look and suddenly got a pang in his left hamstring. He knew then that that was it. It was game over. He got a salt chew out and quickly necked his shot of Crampfix but sadly was too late. His fate had already been sealed.
He tried to get going again but kept on getting more pangs of cramp which forced him to keep stopping. He soldiered on in the hope that it would go away but that was never going to happen. For the last 10k he was reduced to a run/walk situation and it was a nightmare. The time he’d worked so hard to get was evaporating and there was nothing he could do about it.
In the end both his hamstrings completely seized up at 25.2 miles and he do go over to the side of the road and throw himself to the floor. The pain was excruciating and he was crying out for help. The police came over at first and they then called a paramedic. It wasn’t long before the paramedic arrived and told him to turn over onto his back. He then told him to move his feet back and forth gently which he did for a little while until all of a sudden, the muscles released.
Looking at his watch, he could see that if he got up and was able to run/walk the last mile he could still make it in for a sub three. So he pressed on. A few other runners stopped an offered to help him when he reached the final corner but he felt he could still make it to the finish by himself.
Eventually going over the line in 2:58:31, Rich felt absolutely crushed and distraught. It had been a really traumatic experience trying to get through that last 10k and knowing that the intense pain was going to come and it was going to hit him hard.
Finishing in 1,676th place out of the masses and 378th in the 40-44 category, it was a massive disappointment for Rich and he knew it could be a real game changer for him. Before that he thought he’d finally cracked the marathon and learnt how run it well. It had turned out though that that was not the case. It was a bitter pill to swallow after all the hard work he’d put into it.
Given his lack of training, Sanjai felt that a sub 3:30 target would be a real challenge for him but he was prepared to give it his all and see what happened.
It was his 29th London Marathon, including one virtual one, so he had certainly seen his fair share and had the experience to help him to achieve his target. He found it quite confusing being in front of some of the faster runners and pace groups due to the strange wave starts.
He found the course to be very crowded and winding and he had to admit that the novelty was beginning to wear off a bit. Reaching the half marathon checkpoint in 1 hour 42 minutes, at that stage he was right on track. Of course, a lot can happen in the second half of marathons though so he wasn’t counting his chickens just yet.
He then went on to reach the 30k stage in 2:25:39 before continuing on the finish in a time of 3:26:51. That was actually a really decent run from Sanjai under the circumstances and he’d come in well below his Good For Age target so from that perspective, it was job done.
That put him in 5,120th place overall and 82nd in the 60-64 category. After he stopped a bout of severe cramp set in, even though he had been taking electrolytes. Perhaps he hadn’t consumed enough though.
Sanjai has applied for another GFA spot for the next one in April so he’ll be hoping for further improvements then if he gets in.
Julian’s estimated time was showing as 6 hours 22 minutes so he could have used that as a benchmark but since he was suffering some side effects from the medicine he’d been he thought it would be best to stick to his original plan of taking it nice and steady.
Getting to the half marathon point in 3:18:45, Julian was going pretty well at that stage and was feeling good. Instead of the projected rainfall, it had turned out to be quite a sunny day in the end and the temperature was fairly warm.
Making it through to 30k in 4:54:07, it was then just 12k to go for Julian. From that point on it was just a case of powering on as best he could. He was experiencing some back and calf issues and the weather made it that much more challenging but Julian soldiered on till he saw The Mall.
Completing the course in 7 hours 12 minutes and 53 seconds, Julian finished up in 40,053rd place and was 1,682nd in the 55-59 category. Considering the circumstances, that was a good effort and he was really happy with his run.
It was a 13-and-a-half minute improvement on his London Marathon time in 2017 as well, which he did in 7:26:23, so it had to count as a successful outing for Julian. He also raised £2,455 for the NSPCC as well which was a terrific total.
Tag’s time of 2:24:48 moved him up to 13th on the Bournemouth AC all-time marathon best list, eclipsing Craig Palmer’s 2019 Berlin time by four seconds and elevating him above Dave Parsons, Pete Thompson and Billy Nixon.
The way he’s running at the moment though and the trajectory he’s been on, you get the feeling that Tag could well climb even further up that leader-board in future races. In fact, he might even be targeting a top ten place, with the time to beat there being Mark Hargreaves’ 1994 London Marathon time of 2:23:25.
Thomas Frith of Woodford Green AC was the fastest non-elite categorised runner, clocking a time of 2:18:35 and he was followed closely by Poole Runners man Sean Hogan was 2nd in the masses in a time of 2:18:51. Joe Morwood of Aldershot Farnham & District was 3rd in a time of 2:20:33.
Out of the non-elite women, Hannah Alderson of Bristol & West was quickest in 2:35:56, with Anya Culling of Best Athletics taking 2nd in 2:36:21.
For Rich Brawn it was very much a case of, back to the drawing board. He would have to go again and try to find an alternative solution to his recurring cramp issues. The thought of going through that kind of training regime only to get that same result again doesn’t really appeal to him right now.
He would get the chance to redeem himself though in a couple of weeks time at the Great South Run, when both he and Julian would be lining up amongst 13,000 others in the Southsea based 10 mile showdown.
Rich’s woes just go to show how difficult it is to get it right in a marathon. You’re always walking a tight rope between hitting your best possible pace and pushing it too far. That’s exactly why though that when a marathon goes well and you achieve your full potential, it’s such a wonderful feeling, and it makes every bit of the torturous training regime worthwhile.