Neil Featherby: How I would tackle a virtual marathon

Neil Featherby going past Cutty Sark at the 1986 London Marathon. Picture: Neil Featherby

Neil Featherby going past Cutty Sark at the 1986 London Marathon. Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

Whilst 100 elite competitors will be running 19 laps around St James Park in London on Sunday morning, thousands of others will be participating in a Virtual London Marathon Run – “The 40th Race, Your Way.”

The 1986 London Marathon medal. Picture: Neil Featherby

The 1986 London Marathon medal. Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

After a year of the unthinkable being reality and virtual runs and races becoming very much an accepted thing, The London Marathon which of course is regarded as one of the greatest marathons in the world, will now take place albeit with the masses also doing their own virtual run of 26.2 miles .

I was recently asked in a podcast how would I have been able to gear my mind to training for such an event back in my day.

My immediate response was that I would have initially struggled especially if I had been training for several weeks and months only to then be told it was not happening other than making it happen myself so as to then send my time and proof of running 26.2 miles in.

Needless to say, I would have eventually got my head around it and if the only choice was to do it virtually, then I would have done everything the same whilst also focusing my mind and thoughts to making sure everything really was spot on come the day.

The training and the taper would have been the same and my mind would have been completely fixed on racing round the streets of the capital as if I really was there whilst running to what would have been my planned pace.

Other runners would have also been very much in my mind with visualisations of all the guys who I knew I would be running up against and as crazy as this may sound, but also hearing the voices of the BBC commentary team in my head. I would have also watched old recordings of previous races to further get in the mood during the last few days and then the night before.

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I would have gone to bed knowing that come the following morning, I would be prepped and ready for what would be the day of all the days to put the finishing touches to all my hard work.

As for my memories of my two appearances in the London Marathon, well my first in 1985 really was such an amazing occasion. I remember everything about it from being picked up at my house and then travelling down to the capital the day before. Then getting up early on race day feeling great and running all the way just about bang on pace apart from a blip between about 14 and 17 miles.

At the time I was of a similar standard to Kevin Meardon from Thetford, who was in great shape, whereby we ran side by side picking the miles off one by one before Kevin started to get some stomach problems just after half way. I knew we were slowing, but at that point I did not want to push on having ran that far together so stayed with him whilst trying to keep him going as there is nothing worse than having stomach issues during a marathon.

However, and after about 17 miles Kev, unselfishly said “go on Neil” for which I then caught up with a well-known and brilliant runner from the north east in Max Coleby, running alongside him until hitting the Embankment where we saw what was undoubtedly the world’s greatest female marathoner at the time, Ingrid Kristiansen about 100 metres ahead.

Ingrid had gone past me at about 14 miles when Kev was struggling. I said to Max, we can catch her only for Max to say, “I don’t think we will, she is going to smash the world record today.”

However, I put my head down and I hate saying this, but Ingrid became the magnet which really drew me on for which I not only went past her at 41km whilst I hasten to add cheering her on, but I also at that very point got a really good mention from David Coleman who was doing commentary on the race.

What I didn’t realise at the time though, was all the other awesome runners who I had passed whilst chasing after her. It was only when I saw the race back on TV when I realised such was my focus during those last few miles. I finished in 2hrs 20mins, 47secs whilst Ingrid Kristiansen did indeed smash the world record, finishing in a time of 2:21:06 which was a record to stand for 13 years. It was without a doubt a very special day for me, but even more so for Ingrid who went on to establish herself as one of the greatest ever female distance runners. Max did also finish just ahead of Ingrid in 2:21:04 and Kevin hung in there to record a time of 2:23:28.

The following year despite being so very eager to once again run in this great race with every intention of running a PB of 2:17 after having ran 2:19 in Berlin seven months earlier, it was not to be. I probably trained far too hard for this one and let’s just say preparations were not the best by way of nutrition.

Even race day was a packet of boiled sweets for breakfast, but I won’t go into that. The weather was also poor with lots of rain and wind in our faces from start to finish. To make it worse it was a time when there was a lot of construction work going on around what was a very bleak Isle Dogs, but I kept pushing on desperately trying to stay on pace and despite feeling pretty rough I can still remember going past what on this day was a struggling Mike Gratton who had won this race just three years earlier.

Then whereas I had chased Ingrid Kristiansen down the Embankment just 12 months prior, this time I was just about hanging in there myself and was really glad to get across the finish line in what was then a disappointing 2:21:20. Just about everyone’s finishing times were down that year right from the winner Toshihiko Seko (2:10:02) from Japan and whilst I was a bit down in the dumps for a few days, there was indeed some icing on the cake in the form of an England call up just two weeks later albeit for another marathon in Aberdeen a further two weeks on.

Good luck to everyone on Sunday who will be pounding out the miles wherever you might be doing it.