1908 London Marathon Centenary

100 years ago a marathon became famous because of the guy who didn't win. Dorando Pietri, a pastry chef from Carpi near Bologne crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for having been "assisted" across the line. Johnny Hayes from the USA finished second and won the gold.

I felt like an outsider when traveling to Windsor for the start of this race for 2 reasons. One was that I was half the age of the average competitor, the second was that having only run 37 marathons I had no right being there.

The 100 marathon club organised a re-run of the famous London 1908 Olympic marathon, the first to be 26 miles and 365 yards. Before then the marathon was not really defined properly and was typically a random distance between 24-26 miles. The London Olympic marathon was originally supposed to be 26 but they thought it would be a good idea to finish the race in front of the Royal box in the White City stadium. That was why the 365 yards were added and the "Marathon" has remained the same distance ever since.

The route was probably lovely 100 years ago. Starting in the grounds of Windsor castle and heading up through Eton, Slough, Uxbridge, Pinner, Ruislip, Harrow, Wembley, Willesden and then White City. Now most of those places are pretty grim, and with no road closures and a busy summer afternoon the run had the potential of being hazardous.

I bought my one way ticket to Windsor (I like buying one way tickets) and arrived at the pub that was the race HQ. It was the first time I've been allowed to pick my race number. I picked 28, my age. There was no competition for that number on the basis of age, numbers in the 60s were more popular for this reason.

The race started exactly 100 years after the 1908 start, at 2.30. The sun was baking the whole of London that day, about 28 degrees. Most of this race was on busy roads with traffic which made the heat even more intense and the air quality poor. This marathon was going to be about as healthy as smoking 20 fags.

The starting horn sounded and we ran through a load of tourists in Windsor who had no idea why they were cheering, but they did anyway. There was a bit more fanfare than when 5 of us did this on our own least year however we were wearing numbers that day and the cheers did come.

This was advertised as a minimally supported event, with only 2 water stops and no marshals. We all had maps and our own water so it wouldn't be a problem. The heat was intense and the busy traffic along the first section of uxbridge road was making it harder. I was not used to running races in the middle of the day and in heavy traffic and I felt quite knackered early on.

The first water came after only 5 miles. I took some but wanted to keep up with the leaders. I managed to do this for about the first half but faded away as the unexpected heat got to me. I vaguely recalled the route from last time but there were still some difficult turnings around Harrow where about 27 roads intersect.

I had my usual problems right near the end and had to walk for a bit while I found a toilet. I took a risk and ran off route to Willesden Junction station to see if there were any there. Luckily there was and the lady at the turnstile let me in without charging me which I thought was very nice. Obiously she could see I was in a race. There was however a queue for the toilet, not of runner though, I assume of drug abusers.

I ran much of the second half with Richard Gurr who was amazed I was so young. I explained that I had only run 37 marathons and was aiming to be at 100 by early 2010 He was quite impressed though I later found out that this guy could run sub 3 hours week in week out.

I picked up the pace a bit near the end as the day was cooling down. The route took in a lap of Wormwood Scrubs prison before making it down Wood lane and to the finish. Somehow I missed the finish again and was headed towards the station before a woman ran after me (which is rare) and directed me to the proper place.

The 100 marathon club sure know what goodies to give after a race. The T-shirt was amazing, something you could actually wear out of the house without feeling like a walking billboard and the medal too was very nice. There must have been 10000 marathons between the finishers of this race so I imagine they have a good idea of what works.

Our original plan was to try and finish this one early and head over to Battersea Park to run the Serpie 5k, however this having took 4 hours that was unlikely. We headed over anyway and watched the finish and then got some rest before my next race, in 36 hours time - 49 miles over the Alps.