Biggleswade Athletic Club members were in action both on the roads and in the crowds at last Sunday’s London Marathon. While a considerable support crew took their places at strategic points on the course, six members of the club were in the lineup, experiencing a mixture of euphoria and disappointment, plus brushes with royalty of both the real and soap varieties for good measure.
First home was Paul Cooke, whose impressive headline finish time of 3hrs 13min 13sec tells only part of the story. With a best of 2:57.59 to his name, set in Brighton next year, Paul was hoping to crack three hours again to earn a guaranteed “Good For Age” place in London next year. By the time he passed the massed ranks of club members at mile 14, he was well on course for the mark, but his plans were derailed when he trod on a discarded water bottle, which left him with a painful trudge to the finish and fears of a cracked bone. His time, the 752nd best in the age 40-44 category and 3467th overall, remains impressive but worries persist about his prospects for the rest of the season.
Not far behind, and facing a different kind of challenge in that he was painted entirely green, and sporting both a huge nylon wig and oversize sunglasses, came Chris Watson. Despite his unconventional garb, his finish time of 3:23.11 is just 11 minutes outside his best and helped raise funds for MacMillan Cancer Support. In the age 50-54 category, Chris came an excellent 448th, and just outside the first 5,000 finishers overall.
Next home was Ian Grimwood, the recipient of a highly sought after race place through the club’s own ballot, and he responded to the challenge with a personal best of 4:25.55, which also gave him 277th place in the age 60-64 category, and 19,526th overall.
Club coach Zoe Luscombe, running in aid of Cambridgeshire Community Foundation, was one of many hit by travel disruption, and needed four trains to make it to the start. Worse was to come when hamstring troubles started to flare up at mile six, but pain was soon to play second-fiddle to an unexpected brush with royalty.
She said: “I rounded the corner to Cutty Sark and saw the Heads Together charity area. I immediately recognised the flame hair of Prince Harry and standing beside him were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In a flash, I changed direction and ran over saying ‘Hello!’ to Harry and then thanked his brother for starting the race, before turning to the Duchess of Cambridge. I asked for a high five and she did not leave me hanging!”
Despite the unexpected tonic, hip, back and knee problems flared up, leaving race plans for a four hour finish out of the window. “The target was now to finish,” she said. Jules Mackay, along with dozens of BAC members at the roadside proudly wearing club kit, was on hand to offer a welcome tonic. “Zoe stopped for cuddles when she saw us,” she said. “I think she needed a boost.” And despite her troubles – “I completed the race in 4:51.45 – my slowest marathon to date” – Zoe’s time was good enough for 1,471st in the age 40-44 category.
Royalty of a different kind was to greet recent club recruit Luci Sanan, who found herself running alongside Adam Woodyatt, aka EastEnders veteran Ian Beale. “I ran complete with arthritis – but I made it – Luci said, and she finished in 5:53.52, 7,423rd in the age 18-39 category. Just behind was another club newcomer, Ricky Byrne, who bounced back from a gruelling training schedule which featured a spell of unconsciousness after one particularly hard run, as featured in The Comet. Weeks later and Ricky breasted the tape ahead of the six hour mark to finish in 5:59.22 – 11,110th in the 18-39 category, but more importantly, to do his clubmates and his charity – the National Autistic Society – proud.
The inspirational efforts at the showpiece London clearly event caught the imagination of Biggleswade and Sandy locals, as the race was soon followed by a flurry of last-minute applications for BAC’s Couch to 5k programme, which started on Wednesday. Nearly 50 quickfire new sign-ups came shortly before the final cut-off on Tuesday evening, to bring the overall tally to 125 – the club’s biggest programme yet by far. Over the next 12 weeks new runners will be born during a structured programme designed to get everyone over the finish line at a graduation Parkrun in Bedford on 15 July, and given the numbers involved, it’s key for existing members to lend a hand as mentors either at the main training nights on Wednesdays, or at organised homework sessions in the local area.
Offers of help very much welcome via the BAC Members Facebook group.