Neil Featherby: How Wymondham member conquered marathons all over world

Keith Blake Wymondham AC

Keith Blake with his Six Star finisher's medal - Credit: Keith Blake

Having written about my marathon regrets last week with the biggest one being not having ran in the World’s oldest marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, I did also mention Wymondham AC’s Keith Blake. 

Keith not only ran in this year’s race (April 18), but also completed what is the Grand Slam of the Big Six City Marathons. The big six being London, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Chicago and of course Boston. 

In some ways I would say I am envious, but well beyond being envious, I am so very impressed for which I wanted to find out more.   

I met with him at Sportlink last Saturday morning to not only hear about his feat but also find out more about why, when and how this running adventure came about. 

Needless to say, this amazing challenge also had an amazing story to go with it which not only further impressed me but several others who were in-store at the time having seen this man who had just turned up with a bag full of superb medals. 

Keith Blake Wymondham AC

Keith Blake, always keen to fly the UK flag - Credit: Keith Blake

Keith did not take up running until turning 50 in 2010 unless you go back to his school days at Sprowston High where he loved the cross country runs on Mousehold Heath. This was on the back of having had a health scare and coming to terms with the news where he decided to get fit by running to help ensure that he was ready to deal with it. 

Deal with it he did, but of course by now he had also become addicted to this running game which now meant wanting to test himself in a race. He tried to get into the Great North Run but it was not to be. 

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He did gain entry into the Great South Run though the following year in 2011. To make that first race even more complete, he bumped into the legend that is Brendon Foster who not only gave him the time of day to genuinely listen to Keith’s story, but introduced him to his family as well. Oh, and before parting company, Brendon handed him a donation towards his charity.   

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Needless to say, Keith was on a double high having ran in the race and met one of his heroes for which running really was now going to be a big part of his life. 

However, it was still a further three years before he went the whole hog when lining up for what was to be the first of his big six 26.2 milers in the London marathon. 

Like many others and me included, Keith learned so much from that first experience of running a marathon.  

“I totally left my pre-race plan behind and got far too excited only to blow up at 18 miles,” he said. “A hard lesson to learn, that’s for sure, but the guy who saw my name on my bib and shouted you aren’t on the buses now Blakey fired me right up. I don’t need a bus to finish this I shouted back.” 

Keith Blake Wymondham AC

Keith Blake after the Chicago Marathon - Credit: Keith Blake

So with marathon number one done and dusted and always having a love for travelling, the challenge was now geared for marathon number two in New York the following year. 

“What an amazing thrill New York was having won my place through the ballot system,” he added. “Everything about the weekend blew me away from the jam-packed Staten Island Ferry to huge crowds lining the route all calling out my name. I loved every loud moment and can still hear those cow bells now.” 

Marathon number three, in Tokyo, was not until 2017 and once again he got in through the ballot system.  

Whilst this was not Keith’s first trip to Tokyo, he was still taken aback by the politeness and respectfulness of the people out there.  

I can personally vouch for this having gone to Japan myself in 2002. As always with Keith, he had something amusing to say when mentioning that he felt tall for the first time in his life. It was also in Tokyo when having met other runners who were going for the 6 majors which ignited Keith’s desire to complete this achievement. 

Next up was Berlin in 2018 and a marathon which also saw Eliud Kipchoge set a new world record that day. Whilst Keith didn’t quite manage to see too much of the great man, if anything at all, this was also another race which he has fond memories of what with his wife Adele and friends David and Teresa all out on the course at various points waving union jack flags. 

Now whereas all his previous marathons had a gap of several months between each other, just three weeks after Berlin came Marathon number five in Chicago and one where Keith says this was the first one he actually wanted to race as opposed to just enjoying the experience and getting round. “Chicago has a cool vibe which is not quite in your face like New York, but of course still retaining that American brashness with all the usual comments of support such as ‘Blake you’ve got this man’ which spurred me on as I broke the four-hour barrier finishing in 3:47:09. Oh, and I also cried!” he said. Apparently, Mo Farah also nicked one of Keith’s union jack flags for his victory speech after winning the race. 

Last of course, and most definitely not least, was Boston, the world's oldest marathon. This was also the marathon he trained three times for before being able to line up with thousands of others just a couple weeks ago (April 18) what with it being cancelled previously due to the Covid pandemic.  

In Keith’s words: “Hugging my wife at mile 6 and 25 whilst seeing the union jack flag flying high under what was a perfect blue sky and being joined by my running buddy Alec from Berlin really was an emotional ending. Once again, I cried.” 

Whilst Keith’s brilliant story is far better told by him in person, I do hope this week’s column inspires others particularly as he has also raised money for his charity during this long journey. 

I must also mention Norwich Road Runners, Nicola Hill, who I discovered just this week also completed the same feat as Keith in Boston. A super well done to her too.