Szymon Chojnacki celebrates his London Marathon run

Szymon Chojnacki was one of nine Bournemouth AC members featuring at this year’s London Marathon

Returning to its regular slot on the third weekend of April, the 2023 London Marathon was back where it belongs and back at its very best. It was as if the equilibrium had finally been restored and all was right with the world.

That brought some of the best Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes over to contest for the race win and it also tempted Mo Farah in for what is likely to be his final marathon performance. Most of Britain’s top marathon runners were there as well including Emile Cairess, Phil Sesemann and Chris Thompson.

It also meant Bournemouth AC members were back out in force with nine of them taking to the start line for the showpiece event of the British running calendar. That of course included the club’s top marathon superstar of the current crop, Rob McTaggart, who came 16th out of the masses last October with a time of 2:24:48.

He had come back more driven and determined than ever and was looking to eclipse his previous display which had put him at number 13 on the all-time Bournemouth AC marathon best list.

Also on the start list, Rich Brawn was competing in his fourth London Marathon. After a disastrous attempt in October which saw him writhing in pain with severe cramp near the end of the course, he was hoping for a smoother ride this time.

Rich Brawn at the start of the London Marathon

Rich Brawn was hoping to lay the ghosts of his previous one to rest

After recording a magnificent PB of 2:43:18 at DOZ Maraton Łódź last May, Szymon Chojnacki was really excited about the prospect of running the London Marathon for the first time. He’d run the ABP Southampton Marathon in 2021 but was yet to get a taste of the crème de la crème of all marathons.

In contrast, Sanjai Sharma was participating in his 30th London Marathon. That was an impressive tally and although he’s slowed down a fair bit now in comparison to the sort of times he used to produce, Sanjai is still keen to set himself targets and push himself to do as well as he can.

One of only four Bournemouth AC men competing in the London Marathon last October, along with Tag, Rich and Julian Oxborough, Sanjai completed the course in 3:26:51. This time he’d trained much better for it though and was looking to get in under 3:15.

Running his first ever marathon, Paddy McCalister had been offered a charity place and had decided it was too good of an opportunity to turn down, so he went for it. Raising money for Chrohn’s and Colitis UK, Paddy managed to raise over £3,500 which was a fantastic effort. The hard part for him though would be doing the actual marathon.

Aiming for a time of around 3:30, Simon Bartlett was competing in his second London Marathon. Simon doesn’t train with the club as it doesn’t really fit in with his schedule so he may not be known to most the members but he keeps his membership so he can use the track.

Heather Khoshnevis and Sarah Swift carb loading

Heather Khoshnevis carb loading the night before the race with Sarah Swift

Going in her second of three consecutive weekends of marathons, Heather Khoshnevis was back in action after competing the ABP Newport Wales Marathon the previous weekend. Then after London, she was taking on North Dorset Village Marathon the weekend after in what was to be her 150th marathon.

After winning the club ballot place for the 2020 London Marathon, Tamzin Petersen ended up doing it in Bournemouth, due to the pandemic, so she never got to have the true London experience. What she did get though was a massive PB, completing it in a remarkable time of 3:47:19. This time round though, she was actually doing it in London, so that was an extremely exciting prospect.

Tamzin Petersen in a bin liner before London Marathon

Tamzin Petersen was hoping she wouldn’t have a rubbish run

Going into it off the back of just two weeks worth of training, it was a bit of a ‘hit and hope’ for Laura Summers. Since she had the place for it though, she felt that she had nothing to lose and that the only way she could fail would be by not turning up. Hence she made sure she was on that start line and ready to give it her best shot. After that, it would be very much a case of, get through it, by hook or by crook.

Laura Summers before the London Marathon

Laura Summers hadn’t really trained for it much so was hoping to wing it

One other good thing about the race being back in its usual Spring slot was that it meant Tag could do all the usual preparation races that he normally does. That way, he could get a good idea of what sort of shape he was in by comparing his performances with those of the previous year.

At the Bournemouth Bay Run, he recorded an unprecedented double, winning both the 10k and Half Marathon races on the same day, with a recovery time of only seven minutes between the two races. He’d also come 3rd in the Salisbury 10 for the Hampshire Road Race League, recording a time of 1:04:08.

Registering a new PB of 1:08:22 in the Wokingham Half Marathon, he’d bettered his time from the previous year by 49 seconds. He’d also equalled his 5k road PB at the Friday Night Under the Lights 5k in Battersea Park, registering a lightening quick time of 15:14 which was 10 seconds faster than the previous year.

At the Lytchett 10 he came 3rd in a time of 55:51 which was two-and-a-half minutes quicker than he did it in the previous year and he had come to within a few seconds of his 10k PB at the Chichester 10k with a time of 31:28. That was two minutes faster than he did it in the previous year, although the weather conditions were a lot better.

This was all done whilst putting in some extremely high mileage weeks with some very tough marathon sessions included. In fact, he did three consecutive weeks where he covered over 95 miles. There was no doubt, he’d put the work in. He just had to execute on the day.

The conditions weren’t great on the day though, with rain forecast and a noticeable chill in the air. Tag had a Championship place so was one of the first people to go over the start line, just after the elite men.

Setting off at what felt to him like quite a pedestrian pace, Tag went through the first 5k in 16:43. He was then fairly consistent with his next three 5ks, posting a 17:04, a 17:08 and a 17:05.

Aiming for low 71 mins at the half way stage, Tag actually went through it in 1:11:41. That suggested he hadn’t set off too quickly and blown his chances of hitting his target time. It was still very much under control.

Rob McTaggart in the London Marathon

Rob McTaggart was one of very few people out there who could go at that sort of speed

He’d been running with a couple of northern lads but at 14 miles he decided to push on solo. That meant he spent the next three or four miles on his own until they caught him up.

Managing to hold on until around 21 miles, he then had to let them go. He didn’t completely die after that but found it tough going for the rest of the race. Reaching the finish line in 2:24:30, it was still a remarkable run from Tag and he’d beaten his time from October by 18 seconds.

That put him in 32nd place out of 48,745 runners and his average pace for the run was 5:30 which is incredible for a marathon. Having worked so hard for it in training though and put so much into it, it was fully deserved.

If he could have just held on for a little longer, Tag feels that he could have gone another minute quicker but he will have to save that for next year. Perhaps having drier, warmer weather would have helped as well.

Having picked up one of the newer collection Bournemouth AC vests on the cheap, Tag was hoping the lighter material would serve him well. Unfortunately, it rained so much that the garment had become soaked, leading to some bleeding and ultimately a very SOAR nipple for Tag.

Rob McTaggart racing along in the London Marathon

There was blood and sweat from Tag but the tears probably came later when he got in the bath

It should have been the race of his dreams for Szymon Chojnaki. Instead though, it was very nearly a nightmare. The problem occurred back in March when he was at running camp in Poland. As he was running down the mountain, he slipped on some ice and injured his ankle. The premise behind running camp though is that you run for 10 consecutive days, twice a day, and this incident happened on the first day.

Disregarding the ankle injury, Szymon continued running for the next nine days, twice a day. Then when he got back to the UK he had an ultrasound and it turned out he needed to a month of of running. With the London Marathon just around the corner, that was not the news he wanted to hear. He wasn’t prepared to just accept that the dream was over though.

With the help of an orthopaedist, a physio and a trainer, he saw some improvement in the injury. He then decided, he was going to go for it. It had looked impossible when he first realised the extent of the injury but he was determined nothing was going to stop him getting to that start line. It was the London Marathon, after all.

Szymon Chojnacki in action at the London Marathon

Although he had an ankle injury, Szymon did not want to miss out on the London Marathon

He was still receiving physio treatment up till the day before the race and had taped his ankle up and took a couple of ketonals to nullify the pain as much as he could. Then, as he always does, Szymon threw himself into it.

For the first 10 miles he was going at around 6:05 pace. His pace dropped slightly after that but went through the half way stage at 1:21:30, which would have been bang on his PB sort of time if he could maintain that over the second half.

Szymon Chojnacki goes past Big Ben

Szymon wasn’t expecting to clock his fastest marathon time

Having had so much time off running though, his fitness wouldn’t have been quite where he would have wanted it to be going into a marathon. He kept of pushing through and was not prepared to give up.

Szymon Chojnacki nears the end of the London Marathon

Szymon nears the end of the race

Running in a group from start to finish, Szymon was spurred on by the support of the onlooking crowds and was revelling in the atmosphere. It became a real battle over the last 10k but Szymon pushed through it well, making it to the finishing line in an outstanding time of 2:48:20.

Szymon Chojnacki finishing the London Marathon

It was a superb run from Szymon considering his injury woes

Given the injury problem he had that was an incredible result and one he should feel immensely proud of. Of course, it’s nowhere near as quick as he would have gone without the ankle issue but taking into account this circumstances it was under, it was a heroic performance. Finishing 1,280th overall, he was 247th in the 40-44 category.

Szymon Chojnacki after the London Marathon

Szymon proudly shows off his medal after a heroic display

Describing it as his most beautiful marathon experience, Szymon had seen everything along the way. Joy and happiness, pain and tragedy. He’s now headed back to Poland for rehabilitation and he knows he’d got a tough road ahead to get back to full fitness. It was well worth the sacrifice though and after the amazing experience he had, he didn’t regret his decision to run one bit.

Szymon Chojnacki biting his London Marathon medal

With not too much in the goody bag, Szymon looked elsewhere to replenish those calories

Also struggling with an injury towards the beginning of the year, Rich Brawn didn’t think he’d be making it onto the start line at one stage either. In fact the early part of January, he wasn’t even running at all.

Receiving some physio treatment though, he set about trying to strengthen his injured knee and gradually began to get back to training. Since he had a good for age place, he wasn’t able to defer it, so he thought it’s probably better to run it in some capacity rather than miss out completely. So he decided to go for it.

Then he started to wonder if it would be possible, even though it was already March and he hadn’t done any long runs yet, to get a sub three. The best way to find out, he thought, was to enter the Milton Keynes 20, which is a race he usually does as a marathon preparation, at his intended pace.

The experiment went well and he managed to complete the MK20 at an average pace that would have got him a sub three. From that point, his goal was formed and he set about training hard.

He still couldn’t run every day due to his knee problem but he was doing the marathon training sessions and getting some decent long runs in so he was hoping that might be enough. Running the Bournemouth Bay Half Marathon as part of a 23 mile run, three weeks out, he was finally ready for the challenge and felt that he had a decent chance of fulfilling that goal. His main worry though was getting cramp like he did last time. His only hope was that the pace would feel so comfortable that his muscles would allow him to keep going without going into spasm.

Rich Brawn and his dad at the London Marathon

Rich was there with his Dad Trevor who coaches Chiltern Harriers

At the start of the race, Rich got chatting to Rachel Jeff, a runner from Workington. She said she was going for sub 3:04 but obviously sub three was the dream. Since he was going to go at sub three pace Rich suggested that perhaps they could run together. His plan was to stay under 6:48 for each mile split.

They set off on their way, chatting as they ticked off the early miles and keeping tabs on the pace. They went through the first 5k in just under 21 minutes which didn’t seem exceptionally fast. As they moved onto the next 5k, the conditions seemed to be getting worse and they began to get a lot wetter.

Rich was trying to keep driving the pace though to stay under his target pace. Somewhere between the fifth and sixth mile he noticed that Rachel was dropping back a bit and decided he would have to go it alone. Well, not exactly alone as there were many other runners around.

The key thing for Rich was to stay in that comfort zone. The pace felt really easy to him and he knew it had to if he was to have any chance of making it through without cramp rearing its ugly head.

Reaching the half way stage at 1:28:45, he started to feel like he had a real chance of making it. But he had to stay disciplined and keep tempering his pace. On the 16th mile he lost GPS going through a tunnel and that threw his pace out for that mile, but he knew from previous years that was going to happen. Then, on the 19th mile, his watch tried to catch up giving him some very strange pace readings.

There was a hill on the 20th mile which slowed him down a bit but once he was over that, he was back on pace and feeling very good. To have got this far and have so much energy left was fantastic. There was only only thing that could stop him now.

Almost exactly as he got to the 23rd mile, he got his first couple of pangs of cramp. He’d said he was going to pull out straight away this time if he started to get it rather than going through that pain again. But instead he calmly pulled over and decided to stop and stretch. He had to sit on the floor to stretch the hamstrings. But he didn’t panic and remained calm. Necking a shot of Crampfix, he then decided to start running again, slowly at first and then see what happened.

He was still going at just under 7 minute mile pace and it felt okay. He was just praying the cramp wouldn’t come back as he knew if it did, it would put pay to his sub three chances.

Getting to 25 miles in 2 hours 50 minutes he knew at that point that he should make it in for a sub three if he could avoid any further issues. He then began to crank the pace up and bit and arrived on the Mall with what seemed like enough time to spare.

Rich was thrilled as he made it over the finish line in 2:59:04. He’d lost a couple of minutes when he stopped to stretch but luckily he had enough time in the bank to make it through. That put him in 2,821st place overall and 567th in the 40-44 division.

Rich Brawn with medal after the London Marathon

Rich was pleased that he’d managed to swerve the painful cramp he suffered from last time

Considering he’d only really had eight weeks of training and had only done a handful of long runs in preparation, it was a good result for Rich and he had to happy with the outcome.

Rich Brawn after the London Marathon

It was his slowest London Marathon time but still a good sub three

Sanjai Sharma had two goals for the marathon. One was to run a sub 3:15 and the other was to remain injury free. Starting off a bit quicker than he’d planned, Sanjai found it hard to slow down at first. He went through his first 5k in 21:39 and then followed that up with a 21:48 for his second 5k.

Settling down to a 22:22 and a 22:39 for his next couple of 5ks, Sanjai went through the half way point in 1:33:24. He began to find it a little tougher in the second half but stayed strong. The last 10k became a real battle but Sanjai managed to keep going and didn’t slow too much despite suffering some spasms of cramp.

Getting to the line in a time of 3:12:03, Sanjai had achieved his goal quite comfortably in the end which he was really please about. That put him in 4,752nd overall and he was 30th in the 60-64 category which was quite an impressive result.

It was well within the GFA time he needed as well so that will hopefully mean he’ll be back on the start line next again next year. The only aspect of it that he wasn’t too keen on was the rain!

Hoping to remain injury free for the foreseeable future, this was a good solid base for Sanjai and he was hoping to build from here with the additional fitness he’d gained.

Sanjai Sharma in the London Marathon

Sanjai Sharma got round unscathed in his 30th London Marathon

It was only about 14 weeks out from London that Paddy decided he was going to do it. Pretty soon, he was thrust into the thick of the training and starting on the marathon session schedule that has been used by many Bournemouth AC runners over the years.

Unfortunately part the way into his training block, Paddy picked up an injury which forced him to stop running for a couple of weeks. He did some cross training over that time though to maintain his fitness and eased himself back to running when the injury subsided.

Originally he was thinking about going to a sub three but the time he’d had off running had thrown his chances into doubt. He did still manage to go at roughly sub three pace in the Salisbury 10 but it sort of made up his mind that he wasn’t going to be able to do a full marathon at that pace.

When it came down to the day of the race, he was nervous but excited about making his marathon debut. It was a journey into the unknown for Paddy though so there was always going to be a degree of trepidation.

For the first 10k he was going at between 7:05 and 7:10 pace and was going through his 5ks in roughly 22:30. Reaching the half way stage in 1:34:41, it was a very consistently paced effort thus far from Paddy. There was still a long way to go though of course.

It was only really after 16 miles that his pace started to drop a touch. He was still feeling pretty strong though up till the 35k and it had gone as smoothly as he could have hoped. That was all about to change though.

Beginning to really struggle over the last 5k, Paddy really had to dig in and showed great character to keep going. Crossing the finish line in 3:14:09, it was a tremendous run in his very first marathon.

Paddy McCalister after completing the London Marathon

Paddy ran really well in his debut marathon

Coming in in 5,141st place, Paddy had done himself proud and it was a well deserved reward for all the marathon training sessions and long runs he did in preparation.

Paddy McCalister after the London Marathon

As well as recording a good sub 3:15 time, Paddy had raised a lot of money for Chrohn’s and Colitis UK

In the week leading up to the race, Simon Bartlett had been struggling with a cold and unfortunately wasn’t feeling 100% on the day. With the number of runners on the course, he found it difficult, often having to adjust his pace and being unable to get into a rhythm.

It had that big event feel to it though and there was that sense that you were participating in something hugely important. The crowd support was fantastic though which made it an unforgettable experience for Simon.

Completing the course in 3:38:29, Simon didn’t quite manage to hit his target on this occasion but it was still a very good effort from him and he hopes to back again next year to get the 3:30 time that he craves.

Simon Bartlett in the London Marathon

Simon Bartlett wasn’t feeling 100% but gave it his best shot

Finishing in 10,914th place, Simon was 181st in the 60-64 category. He’d beaten his 2021 London Marathon time by 23-and-a-half minutes, so a decent result from Simon and one he’ll no doubt look back on with pride.

Seeming to have recovered okay from the Newport Marathon the previous weekend, Heather Khoshnevis went through the half way point in 1 hour 48 minutes.

Going on to complete the course in 3:47:17, Heather finished as 3,274th placed female and 35th in the 60-64 category. Her overall position in the standings was 13,587.

Heather Khoshnevis after the London Marathon

It was another marathon ticked off for Heather

Although it was a soggy day, the crowds were electrifying and Heather certainly appreciated that. Travelling and staying in London with some of the other Dorset runners, she seemed to enjoy the trip, especially the carb loading element!

Reaching the half way point in 1:57:58, Tamzin was looking on course for a sub four hour time at that stage. As she got closer to the end though her pace began to drop a bit and she was finding it tough going.

Tamzin Petersen making her way round in the London Marathon

Tamzin tried to be careful not to blow it in the early stages

To her credit though, Tamzin kept moving forwards and pushing on towards the finish line. Registering a finishing time of 4:01:17, Tamzin was 5,071st female over the line and came 18,768th overall.

Tamzin Petersen with her friend Howard after the London Marathon

It was Tamzin’s second fastest marathon time if you include her virtual one

Although she went through a lot of pain during the run, it was an incredible experience for Tamzin and at least this time, she got to actually do it in London immerse herself in the unique atmosphere that comes with it.

Tamzin Petersen with some friends after the London Marathon

Tamzin had every reason to be proud of her efforts

Not feeling it at all on the day, Laura Summers found that her head just wasn’t in the game. Making it to the half way point in 1:56:23, she was going pretty well considering she was untrained and under prepared.

It got very tough for her in the last 10k but she didn’t give up and persevered all the way to the end. Clocking a time of 4:06:34, Laura was 5,635th woman over the line and came 20,240th overall.

It wasn’t her finest marathon but she felt absolutely broken afterwards but she got through it and that was the main thing. For next time, she will no doubt ensure she gets a decent block of training in. Ultimately, it was a character building experience though for Laura and showed her inner strength and resilience.

Laura Summers after the London Marathon

Laura showed great character to complete the course in a reasonable time

Former Bournemouth AC member Raluca Basarman had a fantastic run to finish in 3:48. That eclipsed her only other previous marathon attempt, which was Seville in February, by eight minutes. Having moved to Madrid, Ralu flew back to England specifically for the marathon and since she did so well, it was definitely worth it.

There were many other outstanding performances from Dorset based runners at the London Marathon this year. Poole AC man Brian Underwood nailed a magnificent new PB of 2:30:05 which put him in 129th place and that also saw him take 2nd place in the 45-49 category.

Another Poole AC man, Thomas Corbin, had a tremendous run to complete the course in 2:32:57. That was a huge PB for him and put him 212th overall.

It was a magical moment for Alex Door of Egdon Heath Harriers when she crossed the line to claim her first ever sub three marathon. Clocking a time of 2:57:48, she had put in a remarkable display to realise her dream.

Alex had been training for a sub three at London back in 2020 and was looking on course for it but then covid happened and she never got the chance to attempt it. The fact she’d been waiting such a long time to get the opportunity made it even sweeter when it did finally came around.

Alex was 138th placed female and her Egdon Heath Harriers teammates Natalie Lawrence and Georgina Povall also recorded brilliant sub three times, with Natalie finishing in 2:55:24 and Georgina crossing the line in 2:55:30. They were 102nd and 103rd placed women.

Simon Arthur of Egdon Heath Harriers also had an excellent run to complete the course in 2:42:53, putting him 802nd overall, and Graham Sherwin got round in 2:44:13 which put him 903rd overall.

Poole AC man Dave Hicks was 23rd in the 50-54 category and 846th overall with his time of 2:43:31 and Twemlow Track Club star Jack Galloway completed the course in 2:44:01, putting him in 887th place overall.

Vincent Fowler of Littledown Harriers finished 27th in the 50-54 category and `1,027th overall in a time of 2:45:41 and Poole AC man Barry Miller got round in 2:50:57 which put him in 1,563rd place in the standings.

No matter what level you get to or how many you do, marathons are always a learning experience. There are always little nuggets you can take with you into the next one and new ideas to try out and experiment with. Plus the quest to run faster is always bubbling under the surface for most runners and that’s what drives them on to train hard and make the necessary sacrifices to reach their full potential.

After a few weeks of rest and reflection, Tag, Rich and Sanjai were back in action at the Alton 10 which was the next race in the Hampshire Road Race League. The final four fixtures of the season will be all important for the Bournemouth AC men and should see them seal promotion to the second tier. Heather didn’t have that long to recover though before embarking upon her next epic as the North Dorset Village Marathon was just around the corner.