The hardest London Marathon yet … BAC runners suffer in searing heat

Athletes from Biggleswade Athletic Club fought against searing heat for last weekend’s London Marathon, in a race where times across the board suffered, and runners by the thousand fell by the wayside in the hottest conditions the race has ever seen.

With temperatures recorded as 24.1C, but even hotter on the course itself due to the heat absorbed by the London roads and generated by the massed runners, many found themselves throwing race plans out of the window and simply clinging on. On Monday it was announced that 29-year-old Matt Campbell, an experienced distance runner from Cumbria, died in hospital after collapsing near the 22-mile mark.

So for BAC’s competitors, taking the start line was no mean feat, running any kind of distance on the day was commendable, and finishing suddenly became a serious achievement.

First home was Paul Cooke, one of the club’s best and most experienced distance runners, and it was a measure of the heat that his hopes of a sub-3hr finish were recalibrated mid-race to factor in the conditions, as he crossed the line in a still-impressive 3:23:22. Shortly behind was the first of Biggleswade’s female runners, Isobel Everest, in 3:37:01.

Paul Cooke in the London Marathon. Photo by Ben Pike
Paul Cooke enjoying his race. Photo by Ben Pike

Further back, BAC’s athletes were suffering, and at 15 miles Simon Strong wisely called it a day as the heat became too much. Having suffered appalling luck with injuries in the last year – his entry in the race was in fact deferred from 12 months ago as niggles disrupted his preparation for 2017’s race – it was another cruel blow, but hopefully his training in recent months will stand him in good stead for other challenges this season.

Stuart Goodwin took the line having undergone treatment for a knee injury, which flared up during a recent half-marathon. Despite finishing that race, he was aware it was unlikely to keep itself to itself for 26.2 miles. “It flared up in the first 15 minutes – the second mile,” he said. “My training had been geared to try and break 4 hours, my PB is 4:21 set last year, but due to missed training and the conditions on the day, that went out of the window fairly early on.” During mile 12, his knee seized and he found himself slowing almost to a walk.

“Such a horrible feeling – you don’t want to stop, everyone’s chanting your name from the front of your vest, you’ve got 15 miles still to go, and even if you do stop you’re in the middle of nowhere and your bank card’s on the back of a truck at the finish. I kind of felt obliged to carry on, almost against my better judgment. I’ve found myself run/walking bits of marathons before when injury or fatigue has hit, but never anywhere near that far, and certainly in nothing like those kind of conditions.

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Stuart Goodwin finally nears the finish. Photo by MarathonFoto, reproduced with permission

“I knew how bad it was going when a guy sailed by with a washing machine strapped across his shoulders. People were on their backs all over the place, completely done – it was unbelievably brutal.”

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A charity runner rubs in how poorly Stuart Goodwin’s race is going

He went on to finish in 5:14:44 – “The 44’s important. I did a very dicky sprint at the end to ensure I was inside my ‘personal worst’ marathon time. I got there with 14 seconds to spare! So glad I toughed it out – lord only knows how long it would have taken me without encouragement from the crowd.”

BAC are provided with two club places to the race each year, which are allocated after eligible athletes enter a ballot. Goodwin took one place, and the other one went to Cat Marriott – she was the next BAC competitor home in 5:30:26, with her eyecatchingly tall headwear offering an additional challenge in the face of the heat.

Cat Marriott and Stuart Goodwin at the London Marathon start. Photo by Stuart Goodwin
Cat Marriott and Stuart Goodwin at the London Marathon start. Photo by Stuart Goodwin

Next up was Ricky Byrne, originally aiming for 4:30, which he soon realised wasn’t on given the heat, but he still had plenty of wiggle room to snare a personal best time. Up to halfway, all was going well, and he even allowed himself time to enjoy the celebration station with his chosen charity – Ambitious About Autism. Soon after, however, as the temperature continued to climb, he also began to struggle. “That first half had taken its toll and there was no way i could keep it up in the heat for the remaining miles,” he said. “At 19 miles I hit the wall and sobbed my heart out – I’d seen people fainting and convulsing.”

In spite of this, and with some timely hugs and encouragement, he dug deep for the remainder and made it round, crossing the line in a PB of 5:46:08. He raised a superb £2176.20 for charity. Nicola Perrin was another running for charity, raising money and awareness for Phab Kids, and she stopped the clock at 6:48:30 to fulfil a lifelong ambition of taking part in the race.

Ricky Byrne after London Marathon finish. Photo by Ricky Byrne
Ricky Byrne poses with his finishers’ medal

Support crews from the club were stationed at miles 14, 21 and 22, and they enjoyed a great day out supporting all competitors, including the elite athletes, seeing David Weir on his way to winning the men’s wheelchair race, and Mo Farah breaking through into world-class marathon-running by taking the long-standing British record.

“People bang on about the London Marathon, about its unrivalled atmosphere, and the power you get from the crowds, and to be honest I was sceptical,” Goodwin said. “But it’s not hyperbole – it absolutely lived up to the hype. I hated every second, but loved every minute – I was muttering when the pain was at its worst that I never want to put myself through anything like that again, but as soon as I crossed the line I was looking to see when entries for the 2019 ballot open. I’ve done a lot of races, but it’s unlike anything else.”

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