Neil Featherby: The day I won the Wolverhampton Marathon
What with our lives being totally consumed by the coronavirus during these last couple of weeks and our running having been confined to getting out and just doing the bare minimum, this week I am going to self-indulge with another look back on what for me is another fantastic personal running memory.
Whilst it still feels like yesterday, it will actually be 33 years to the day this Sunday, April 5th when I won the Wolverhampton Marathon, which back then was arguably the third biggest marathon in the UK.
One of the reasons it was made even more special for me personally though was because just five years earlier in 1982, this same event was my first ever marathon (2:37:33) and indeed competitive race having had an eight-year lay-off.
Therefore what a great pleasure and even honour it was to be invited back in 1987 for an all expenses paid trip along with my good friend Peter Duhig who was also taking part in the Half Marathon.
After race registration on the Saturday afternoon the day before the marathon, we were taken to our hotel where we were introduced to another special guest and invited runner who at the time was probably one of the country’s most popular and famous personalities.
Unfortunately, the word famous has now been replaced with the word infamous, but I will never forget him saying to me how he had always wanted to meet the winner of one of these many races which he took part in for which my response was “well let’s hope that isn’t the kiss of death then”. Pete just stared at me and I must admit that it did cause a bit of a tumble weed moment, but hey ho.
The following morning we were chauffeur driven with police motorbike riders as escorts to the race start while in the back of the car, our famous celebrity decided to light up one of his trademark signature cigars, blowing smoke all over me and Pete. I wasn’t exactly happy and relieved when we pulled up and he got out kissing the floor to what at the time was his adoring public.
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Whilst I had the pressure of being made race favourite which was made even worse when I saw my photograph in the programme, in truth I did have a few doubts before going into this race.
There were a few other really good guys on the start line such as Trevor Hawes who almost made a living winning marathons all over the UK and overseas along with another good mate and adversary Bob Payne who had beaten me in a cross country race a couple of weeks earlier plus an up and coming future GB International in Terry Clarke, along with Paul Kindred and Dave Ellis to name, but a few who were all seriously renowned road racers and marathon runners.
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The gun went and we were away whereby I just sat in the lead bunch for the first few miles before deliberately drifting off the back what with just feeling pretty flat.
I wanted the leaders to open up a bit of a gap on me so I could then test myself by forcing my way back on to the group in the hope that once I had, I would then keep the momentum going and pull away.
Pull the leaders back I did, but once I had, they just covered every move I tried to make, especially Trevor Hawes.
I remember getting to 18 miles and it was down to just me, Hawes, Payne, Clarke and Kindred where I just kept saying myself, come on you have to make a move soon, but I could not find that extra spark.
I wasn’t tired at all, it was just that there was no spring in my legs. I was putting it down to three reasons, one, not easing back enough in the week leading up to the race, two, having done the carbo loading diet which did not always work and lastly I was wearing a new pair of race shoes which had been sent to me specially from Japan to wear in the race. They were as hard as rock with no bounce whatsoever. Certainly a long way off anything like some of today’s controversial shoes that’s for sure.
Then just after 20 miles, Trevor Hawes put in a huge burst which completely split the field up with me being the only one to react and go with him. After about 200 metres he eased off, but then went again with me sitting right beside him. However, this time it really had brought me to life and I just turned my head side-ways, looked at him in the face and he said: “I just want to secure second place.”
Thank you very much I thought and then put in my own burst and just kept pulling away until when looking back at 25 miles and seeing that I was well clear, I decided to ease right off and just savour the moment and attention from what really was big crowds lining the route.
The final run in was up a really long hill and I will never ever forget that experience especially when crossing the finish line in what was at the time a reasonable 2hrs 22mins and 4sec. I was surrounded by press and TV cameras and pats on the back making it quite surreal particularly when thinking back to what was my very first experience of the marathon five years earlier when at the time I was just over the moon to have completed such a distance never mind come back and win the same race a few years later.
Incidentally, Trevor Hawes finished exactly 1 min and 30 secs behind me in second place, but in my mind I still owe that win to him what with him shaking the race up at a point where I most certainly needed it the most.
Needless to say it is now all these years later when I look back at not only this race, but so many others too and of course all the friends I have made from around not just the UK, but in other parts of the world too. I am indeed so very appreciative of what for me was such a super period in my life.
Stay safe everyone and don’t forget to keep on running even if it is just for 30 minutes a day.
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