Barry Dolman, Rob Spencer and Ali Humphrey getting ready to start

The anticipation and excitement builds as Barry Dolman, Rob Spencer and Ali Humphrey gather at the start before getting their 2021 London Marathon runs underway

When racing first came back after Covid restrictions were eased it was a real relief to have it back. The thrill of the chase… that competitive edge… the adrenaline buzz you get from racing against others… There really is nothing quite like it.

Although it was great to have running events back on the calendar though, for the vast majority of that time, there was something missing. Something that plays a massive part in making racing what it is. Something that helps generate the wonderful atmosphere you often experience in big events. And that something is of course – the supporters.

Without the thrill of the onlooking crowds roaring you on, shouting, screaming and cheering, it’s just not the same. It’s so much harder to find the motivation to keep going. To dig deep and find that extra bit of resolve to grind it out when the going gets tough.

It was that that made the Virgin Money London Marathon so special this year, even more so that any other year, and it was that that it will be remembered for in years to come. Especially after what everyone has been through. The isolation… the social distancing… the lack of mingling with friends, family, colleagues and teammates.

Having a race with 36,000 participants go ahead felt like quite a milestone. And having many more thousands out there on streets supporting, cheering and creating the most incredible of atmospheres felt almost ground-breaking. This was it. This was life as we knew it before. This was life at its best!

Of course, for the runners taking part though there was still some serious racing to be done and they couldn’t afford to get carried away with the magnitude of the event or the circumstances. For them, there was a lot at stake. There were potential PB’s to earn and paces to keep to, in amongst all the melee.

Of those 36,000 participants, there were nine runners affiliated to Bournemouth AC. That included Anthony Clark, Richard Brawn, Rob Spencer, Heather Khoshnevis and Alison Humphrey.

It was a bit of a change for Ant Clark to be training just for a marathon, rather than a massive ultra like he did when he was doing the World 100k Championships or the Comrades Marathon which is 89 kilometres.

Thus he was focusing on speed work a bit more as opposed to put in hugely high mileage weeks. He certainly seemed to be getting quicker as a result as well.

For a few weeks in the lead up to London, Ant had been hammering down his 5k times at Poole parkrun. That culminated in him securing a magnificent new parkrun PB of 15:58.

He’d also managed to nail down a new 10k PB of 33:27 at Eastleigh and went pretty close to his all-time half marathon best at Dorney Lake as well when he registered a time of 1:13:19 in a repurposed Maidenhead Half Marathon.

Recording a new half marathon PB of 1:18:49 at the Puddletown Plod just before he started his marathon training, Rich Brawn knew he was going into it from a good place.

Like Ant, Rich had spent a fair bit of his training trying to get his 5k time down as well. He’d competed in a 3000m and a 5000m race on the track in the National Athletics League and had managed to reduce it down to very close to 17 minutes.

He’d also done a 20 mile race at the Milton Keynes Festival of Running and had managed to get round at an average pace of just under what he was targeting at London so he could tell he was there or thereabouts.

Then a couple of weeks before London Rich nabbed a superb new PB of 16:47 at Poole parkrun. He knew then that he was in very good shape for the marathon.

He had been experiencing some issues in training though where he’d been feeling sick towards the end of his long runs though so that was a concern for Rich. He’d also been struggling to find any gels that his stomach would agree with so that was also worrying him somewhat.

Last October, Rich had done the Virtual London Marathon and he’d run it in a race at Dorney Lake. The conditions on the day were horrendous though and it was raining so much that his shorts got soaked and the salt capsules he’s brought with him disintegrated.

He ended up getting cramp in around the 23rd mile and that saw a painful ending to what was otherwise looking like quite a promising run for him. Cramp was always going to be another big concern for Rich at the VMLM.

Rich Brawn picks up London Marathon number

Rich Brawn picks up his number and Age Group World Championship bib at the London Marathon expo

Rich had been joined in his marathon training sessions by one of Bournemouth AC’s newer members, Sam Jackson. The pair had met after the Puddletown Half Marathon and since then Sam had been coming along to some of the BAC training sessions with his brother Luke.

Aiming for a sub 2:50 time, Sam had been certainly been putting in the hard yards in training and had been clocking 80 miles per week in the build up to the race. It was clear that he too was in excellent shape.

Rob Spencer had been following a Tin Man training program throughout most of the year really and it had been working for him. He’d clearly been getting quicker and when he recorded a new 10k PB of 30:46 at the Speedway 10k in Chepstow, he knew he was on the right track.

Since then, he just needed to keep doing what he was doing and keep improving and that was exactly what he did. He’d been joined in some of his training sessions by another new face to the Bournemouth AC ranks in Barry Dolman.

Barry had also been going well in training and making some vast improvements to his times. The progress he’d made was remarkable really considering he was fairly new to running when he joined the club.

He had ambitions to run a sub 3 hour marathon and it seemed that that could even be a possibility in this year’s race. He was certainly hoping to get round in under 3 hours 15 minutes anyway so any improvement on that would be a bonus.

Heather Khoshnevis had certainly done her fair share of marathons in the build up to the VMLM including the New Forest Marathon on the previous weekend.

Then the month before that she’d done the Bath Two Tunnels Marathon. Then in July she ran the Hampshire Hoppit and in June the Kempton Park Marathon.

It was to be Heather’s 14th time of running the London Marathon and incredibly it was her 141st marathon in total. And she certainly isn’t showing any signs of letting up.

Alison Humphrey had been putting in some very good training runs ahead of the London Marathon where she’d been knocking out 18 plus miles at 7:30 pace. Hence, she was feeling ready and raring to go.

Helen O’Neile, on the other hand, was going into it off the back of virtually no training at all. She’d been suffering from an ongoing achilles injury that had plagued her for quite some time now.

If anyone could just turn up and run a good marathon off of minimal training, it was Helen though and she was determined to give it a good go. It was a big ask though of course.

Also in action representing BAC was Jayne Wade. She’d run the Brighton Marathon three weeks prior and hadn’t fully recovered by the time London came around.

She knew it was going to take a lot of determination to get her through it and was anticipating that it wasn’t going to be pretty. In fact, she felt the only way she was going to make it round was by praying to the running gods!

It was easy to see that Rob Spencer was in the mood from the get-go and he blasted out of the blocks in the Championship pen and never looked back.

He was rattling through each mile at between 5:20 and 5:35 pace. That meant he was clocking between 17 and 17:30 for each 5k. It really was an incredible performance from Rob and underlined the huge strides he’s been making of late.

It was only in the last 5k that he started to feel it a bit but he still managed to compete those miles in under 6 minutes. It had been a masterclass from Rob and his finishing time of 2 hours 25 minutes and 56 seconds elevated him to the lofty heights of 30th place out of the masses.

In a field of 35,833, that was an extremely impressive position to be in for Rob. It also put him 18th on the all time list of Bournemouth AC’s quickest marathon times. Thinking of all the impressive athletes who have pulled on the famous yellow and blue vest in the past, that was quite an accolade.

Rob Spencer with partner after London Marathon

Rob had pencilled his name into the BAC record books with a truly astounding time

Also moving his name up the rankings of BAC greats, Ant Clark delivered a terrific new marathon PB of 2:27:35. That put him in 46th place overall at London and 7th in the 40-44 category.

Ant Clark in action in the London Marathon

Ant Clark was on top form at London and able to maintain a ferocious pace throughout

The vast majority of Ant’s miles were run at between 5:30 and 5:35 pace, certainly up until the 20 mile point. Then for the last 10k it was more like 5:45 pace.

Ant Clark going well in the London Marathon

Ant was on his way to record a terrific new PB that would see him finish in 46th place

With an average pace of 5:36 minutes per mile, it was a highly impressive performance from Ant catapulting him up to 22nd on the all-time BAC list.

Anthony Clark in the London Marathon

The stats speak for themselves: Ant Clark excelled at London this year

Rich Brawn and Sam Jackson met up just before going into the start pen and were running together at first. Sam was going a touch too quickly for Rich’s liking though so he decided to let him go.

Since he tends to suffer from cramp in the latter stages, Rich knew how important it was to keep it controlled and ensure he was going at a pace that seemed relatively easy for him.

Rich Brawn and Sam Jackson on the BBC TV coverage

Rich Brawn and Sam Jackson made it onto the BBC TV coverage when they were starting the race

He had in his head the idea of running at around 6:25 sort of pace so that was what Rich was loosely aiming for. His hope was to get up to 20 miles without feeling like he’d expended too much energy.

There was a couple of little inclines on the 20th mile though which made him have to work a bit harder than he would have liked. Nevertheless though, he was going to the last 10k feeling pretty strong.

Rich Brawn spots some friends in the crowd

Rich spots some friends in the crowd and turns to acknowledge their support

The pace still seemed pretty comfortable but as he got closer to the end he could feel his leg muscles beginning to tighten. This was where he was in real danger. He couldn’t afford to let cramp set in.

Even though he was actually feeling strong enough to really push on and up the pace, he decided it was probably best not to and stuck at the speed he was going.

Rich Brawn strides out in the London Marathon

A rare shot of Rich actually looking like he has a good running style

He’d consumed a fair amount of salt capsules and had been eating salt stick chews as well to try and stave the cramp off. At about 25.3 miles he felt his first proper pang and the warning signs that cramp was imminent were there.

Taking out his sachet of Crampfix, he gently sipped it back. The Crampfix had made him sick at Dorney Lake when he tried to swallow it too quickly so he was more careful to drink it slowly this time.

Rich Brawn moving well in the London Marathon

It was touch and go at the end for Rich with the threat of cramp looming large on the horizon

Very relieved to turn onto the finishing straight at The Mall, Rich had managed to get away with it and was overjoyed to cross the line in a time of 2:48:29.

That was an improvement of almost 7 minutes on his previous best time of 2:55:23 which was set at London in 2019. It had turned out to be a very well paced run and the splits were pretty consistent all the way which was pleasing to him.

Rich Brawn with medal

Rich was extremely happy with the performance he produced on the day

Going through virtually every 5k in just over 20 minutes, his average page for the run was a solid 6:23. That put him in 855th place overall and 203rd in the 40-44 category.

It was a fantastic experience for Rich and he revelled in the amazing support he got from his Dad, his friends and his clubmates whilst out on the course.

Rich Brawn with Darren Smith

Rich met Darren Smith after the race and he’d run it in a very impressive 2:42

As for Sam, he ran pretty well for the first 20 miles and was well on course to achieve the sub 2:50 that he wanted. He began to suffer a bit though over the last 10k and was forced to slow down a fair bit.

Having not done any long runs over 20 miles in training, his legs perhaps weren’t used to the additional distance and hence found it difficult to cope.

Crossing the line in a time of 2:51:38, Sam finished in 1,119th place overall and 256th in the 40-44 category. Frustratingly, he just missed out on a PB by 10 seconds after getting round in 2:51:28 in the 2019 London Marathon.

It was tough to take for Sam after all the hard work he’d put in in training but unfortunately, as he found in this instance, there are no guarantees on the day. It was still a cracking time though by all accounts and a result to be proud of nonetheless.

Having never done anything like the London Marathon before, Barry Dolman didn’t really have a clue how to run it, but considering that, he made a pretty good fist of it.

Initially he stuck to a heart rate he was comfortable with, which was probably a good approach, then from 15k onwards he ran pretty much by feel.

For the first 7 miles he was between 7 and 7:15 minutes per mile. For the next 5 miles he was just over 7 minute mile pace. From mile 13 he was going to around 6:50 sort of pace. He then managed to keep that going for pretty much the remainder of the race.

It turned out to be a very good negative split from Barry and showed that you don’t have to be the most experienced of marathon runners to get it right. You just have to be sensible and go in with a good tactical approach.

Crossing the line in a time of 3:03:46, it was indeed a splendid run from Barry and put him in 2,477th place overall and 199th in the 50-54 category. Not bad at all for a first stab at it.

Rob Spencer and Barry Dolman after the London Marathon

It was a momentous day for both Rob and Barry

Feeling pretty good over the first half of the race, Helen O’Neile was going at around 6:40 sort of pace for the first 16 miles. In fact, she went through the half way point in 1:28:35 so was going very well at that stage.

Because she hadn’t really trained for it though, she was anticipating a drop-off over the second half of the race and was hoping to cruise in for a sub 3:14 time.

From the 17th mile onwards her pace began to drop a bit and from mile 21 onwards she really began to struggle. She got cramp as well which made it very tough over the latter stages and reduced her to over 8 minutes per mile.

Despite that, she rallied well and managed to see it through to end, reaching the line in a time of 3:10:23. That put her in 3,151st place overall and she was 266th female on the day.

Considering that was off the back of virtually no training, it was a fantastic result from Helen and shows that with the right training behind her, she has the potential to achieve big things.

It was still good enough to get her a Championship qualifying time for next year though and she has vowed that for that one – she will train! In fact, she has vowed never to do a marathon again without training, although admittedly, she had said that before.

Rob Spencer with a former teammate from St Albans Striders

Rob bumped into a former teammate from St Albans Striders after the race

Going at roughly 7:30 pace for the first 15 miles, Alison Humphrey was feeling pretty good. So much so that she even had to hold herself back at times. She went through the half way point in 1:39:07 and was looking on course for a finish of around 3:20.

Her pace began to drop a touch from mile 16 onwards but she was still holding it together well. She ran out of fuel of the last few miles though and really had to dig in to see it out.

Finishing in a time of 3:24:09, Alison came in in 4,925th place overall and was the 700th fastest female. She was also 38th in the 50-54 category.

It was a pleasing run for Alison though and gave her a PB of over 2-and-a-half minutes. Her previous best was the 3:26:51 that she did at Manchester in 2019.

Alison Humphrey with her medals

Alison had every reason to be proud of her efforts after a stellar run

It was a bit stressful at London this year getting all the Covid measures sorted. You had to take a lateral flow test in the days leading up to the race and show proof of the negative test before being allowed into the start zone area.

For some reason they’d also scrapped the bag drop facility on the morning of the race and the runners had to drop their bags off at the expo with everything they needed for after the race. That made the organisation extra tricky, especially for those who were only staying in London for one night and then wanted to head back after that.

Once all that was sorted though you could relax a bit and enjoy the ride and just go out there and do the best you can on the day – and that was what Heather Khoshnevis did.

Some of the runners were entered into the Abbotts Age Group World Championships as well and they were given a separate bib to pin to their back.

Heather enjoyed seeing who was in her category throughout the race and she was able to overtake a few of them on route, including an additional two with just 600 yards to go.

Finishing in a time of 3:41:31, Heather came 8,088th overall and was 1,683rd female. In the 60-64 category, she was 15th, which was a decent result.

Heather Khoshnevis after the London Marathon

Heather shows off her London Marathon and Age Group World Championship medal

She always loves running in London and feels that you just can’t beat the electricity generated from the crowds. It really does feel special at London.

Heather Khoshnevis and Sarah Swift celebrate

That’s a lot of bling!! Heather celebrates with Poole Runner Sarah Swift

The runners who were in the Abbots Age Group World Championships also got given a separate medal after the race. That medal was ginormous and very heavy. Almost too heavy to out around your neck!

Heather Khoshnevis with Ali Humphreyat Horse Gardens Parade

Heather and Alison at Horse Gardens Parade after with a former teammate of Heather’s

Next up for Heather, she was off to pull on her England vest in the York Marathon, competing for the EA against Celtic teams whilst also battling it out in the BMAF Championship.

Ali Humphrey and Heather Khoshnevis after the race

Alison and Heather had given their all and earned their bling

After suffering with cramp towards the end of her Brighton Marathon, Jayne Wade’s goal for London was to keep running the whole way and not to stop and walk.

It was quite a challenge, but she did it! She knew it was never going to be a fast time after the Brighton Marathon so went at a steadier pace. She managed to avoid getting cramp this time as well until after she’d finished and then it really hurt!

It was definitely a race in which she experienced all four seasons weather wise, feeling hot at points, cold at other times, wind battered in certain sections and wet after the downpour she got caught in.

Finishing in a time of 5:13:08, Jayne was 27,789th overall and 9,646th placed female. In the 55-59 category, she took 534th place. For her it wasn’t about where she finished though and what time, it was about the experience.

She thoroughly enjoyed the run though and found the support and the atmosphere during the race to be amazing. After saying this would be her last marathon, she soon found herself entering the ballot for next year.

Her husband Rich is also a member of the club and he came out to support her. Whilst he was in London as well, he took the opportunity to mingle some of the celebrities and the rich and famous who were there. Well I say mingled… he high fived Chris Evans anyway!

Ant Clark with his daughter at the London Marathon

Ant had made his family very proud with his heroic display

There were so many fantastic runs from Bournemouth AC members and it was great to see them getting out onto the hallowed streets and giving their all. And they could all be extremely proud of their efforts when they look back on what they have achieved.

The most significant aspect of the London Marathon this year was that it showed that events can still take place on the grandest of scales and they can still be successful.

That has to provide us with good reason for optimism when it comes to future races and events and our way of life in general. The best events are the ones that bring people together from all different backgrounds – and there’s no event that does that better than the London Marathon.