Neil Featherby: My memories of the London Marathon

Neil Featherby London Marathon

Neil Featherby goes through the London Marathon finish line in 1985. - Credit: Neil Featherby

So here we are just days away from what will have been months of hard work for thousands of people taking part in this Sunday’s London Marathon. 

Some will be pounding the streets of the capital whilst others are running their own 26.2 mile course as part of what will be the Virtual London Marathon. 

Although people have in past years ran their own race to coincide with London, the official virtual London Marathon is something that only now exists due to the Covid outbreak of 2020 when over 30,000 people ran in the first Virtual London Marathon last year. 

A new date too what with prior to last year all but three of the previous 39 London marathons have taken place in April. The other three in March and May. 

I only ever ran London twice. The first time in 1985 followed by 1986. I absolutely loved that first year and remember just about everything that took place that weekend from travelling down the day before to the running of every single mile. 

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The following year didn’t quite go to plan though as apart from training excessively hard for the race, this time I didn’t have the luxury of being driven down and to say I got the dietary requirements wrong 24 hours before is an understatement. It just goes to show how very important it is to get everything right when it comes to preparation. 

Whereas the weather had been pretty much perfect the year before, 1986 was pretty awful with rain and wind in your face virtually all the way. 

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Back then the Isle of Dogs was pretty bleak, but just as you were hoping to have the wind on your back coming out of it, it turned, making those last few miles really tough. 

Having finished in 2:20 in 1985 and then following that up with a 2:19 in Berlin, my heart had been set on another PB, but crossed the line in 2:21:20. 

At the time I really was so very disappointed, especially after what had been months of hard work. 

I remember feeling in limbo as the marathon is not a distance you can run every other week when looking for personal bests. 

Nevertheless, I decided to enter the Norfolk Marathon which was just a couple of weeks later in the hope of gaining my first win in what was my home marathon. 

I knew the chance of a fast time was out what with still being tired from London and anyone who knows the old Norfolk course will also know that it was anything but fast. 

Then just two days before, I took a call to say I had been selected to run for England at the Aberdeen Marathon which was just three weeks away and not to do anything silly in the meantime. 

I dare not mention the Norfolk race and whilst I did indeed still run it, and win it in 2hrs 29mins, I did my very best to just run as much as I could within myself albeit made difficult by another head wind from Aylsham to Norwich. 

As for Aberdeen, well that really was one of the best experiences of my running life. If Norfolk was a tough course, then this was even tougher, but who cares when it’s your first international vest. 

I finished second in 2:23 as England took the first three places with our fourth runner finishing sixth to also give us the team title. 

There really is something very special about running a marathon, which I am sure everyone who is running London (or indeed Manchester next weekend) will have all experienced. It can be a roller-coaster ride of emotions during training and preparing for the big day. However, when they cross their finish line, it will be just one of the best feelings ever. 

With that, I really do hope they enjoy every single moment as when looking back on it all in years to come, just like I do now, they will all wish they could go back and do it all over again. 

Just to finish off this week’s column, I must just say well done to Norfolk Gazelles’ Ian Thomas and Mandy Foyster from Horsham St Faiths after their super-human efforts last weekend.   

Ian completed what was his sixth finish in the Greek Classic Spartahlon 153-mile event which also required a visit to the hospital after finishing due to suffering during the last few miles with dehydration in what was another excellent time of 34 hours, 19 mins and 37 secs. 

Being the perfectionist he is though, he has already analysed all points of his performance in pursuit of continued improvement and now feels that his body had not fully recovered from the Gloucester 24-hour race at the end of last month. 

However, and talking of amazing races and amazing people, whilst Ian had pushed his body to its limits between Athens and Sparta, Mandy completed the mind-blowing 200-mile Combe Down tunnel race in Bath, Somerset. 

This really was an extreme test of physical and mental endurance consisting of 100 laps of one-mile up the tunnel and then back down again. 

Just to further make this event even tougher, between the hours of 11pm and 5am the competitors also had to run in the dark with just low-level lighting throughout the other hours. 

Outside support was also forbidden apart from some essentials consisting of water, coke, snack bars, cake and gels. Absolutely mind-blowing! 

Whilst this race was restricted to just 30 very hardy runners, all but four failed to complete the event such was the severity of it all with Mandy not only being one of those four people, but she was also the only lady to finish in this mind-boggling race in 54 hours, 55 mins and 22 secs. 

Mandy Foyster

The incredible Mandy Foyster completed the 200-mile Combe Down tunnel race in Bath, Somerset. - Credit: Andy Bailey

I have known Mandy and her brilliant late mum for such a long time and whilst I have met so many awe-inspiring people, she really is not only one of the most modest and nicest people you can ever hope to meet, but truly one of the best.  

Oh, and I must just give a quick mention to say all the very best of luck to other Norfolk athletes: Craig Bowen Jones who will be competing in next week’s 156-mile 6 stage race Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara Desert, and Eva Barton who has been invited to take part in the 2.6km London mini marathon on Sunday morning. 

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