Journalist completes Virgin Money London Marathon 25 years in a row

Independent sports editor Tony Bugby completed the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday for a 25th successive year.

Here he looks back on some of his personal memories of competing in one of the greatest events in the sporting calendar.

MARATHON MALL
Tony Bugby crossing Tower Bridge (courtesy of MarathonFoto)

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envisage completing 25 London marathons back in 1992 when I finally struck lucky in the ballot for a place in the 26.2mile race after experiencing a number of rejections.

It was only meant to me a one-off as running has never been my forte, Iong-distance walking had always been my preferred mode of exercise.

But taking part in that race quite literally was life-changing as over the last 25 years it has become an integral part of my life.

There is the preparation of running in the dark and cold throughout the winter months, when you often question your sanity, and taking part in half marathons each year at Liverpool and Wilmslow as part of the preparations.

But with each passing year as I stand on the start line on the common at Blackheath, the emotion and bond towards the event grows even stronger.

There have been frequent times when I have uttered those words ‘never again’ but it has reached the stage when I cannot contemplate not taking part, though it is getting harder with advancing years.

It is difficult at times to reconcile myself to the fact that mentally I am prepared as ever, but my body cannot perform as it did 25 years ago.

I have never been quick – I only profess to be a fun runner – but I am around 20-per-cent slower than at my so-called peak. But it is still gratifying that on Sunday there were still 5,000 runners still behind me.

And it has given me immense satisfaction to have completed all 25 runs, sometimes having to overcome adversity. None more so than the time not so long ago when I strained a hamstring three weeks before the event and it went again after only one-and-half miles on the big day.

Never a quitter, that required incredible mental strength to deal with that situation as I literally limped round in six-and-a-half hours.

MARATHON TOWER BRIDGE
Tony Bugby on The Mall yards from the finish (courtesy of MarathonFoto)

But there is always elation when you round the bend by Buckingham Palace to enter The Mall for the final couple of hundred yards, a moment to savour be it your first or 25th marathon.

Like most youngsters I had sporting dreams that sadly were never realised. But when you are pounding the streets on London cheered on by more than one million spectators, you can appreciate what sportsmen and women experience competing at the highest level.

And it the spectators, through their support and acts of kindness, who also play a key part in the success of the event. Without them, it would not be the spectacle it has become.

That is why it was sad to see photos in the national press after this year’s event of thieves pilfering bottled water from feed stations that were intended for the runners.

When Chris Brasher and John Disley devised the event and 6,747 entries were accepted from 20,000 applicants for the inaugural run in 1981, they could never have imagined the success it has become.

This year there was a record 39,000 runners from 247,069 who applied to run, a truly staggering statistic as is the sum of money raised for charities each year.

And since my adventure began in 1992, I have also witnessed its popularity became even greater.

It has also been fascinating to see the ever-changing landscape of the route and the changing face of the capital city.

Back in 1992 the route through Docklands was bleak and foreboding as the area was still largely a wasteland where the great port of London once stood.

But since then the enormous skyscrapers around Canary Wharf have sprung to create an imposing backdrop for the event. There has also been massive residential development so support is plentiful whereas once you scarcely saw anybody.

MARATHON MEDAL
He’s done it with a medal to show for his efforts (Courtesy of MarathonFoto)

Elsewhere the landscape has changed at back in 1992 iconic landmarks such as The Shard, The Gherkin and London Eye had not been constructed. Giant cranes can still be viewed along the route so the scenery is ever evolving.

There has also been changes – and not always welcome ones – in terms of technology. Back in 1992 runners didn’t carry mobiles, selfie sticks and hardly any had headphones.

I believe they have become the scourge of the event and, if I were the organisers, I would ban them because there are an irritant and danger to other runners.

This was the worst year ever as a South Korean couple with their selfie stick showed a total disregard for the safety of other runners as they would stop continually to take photos causing runners to take evasive action.

The same goes for mobile phones, another distraction that are also dangerous as runners lose their focus and concentration. That was underlined by a woman dropping her device near the start when the route was packed. She bent down to pick it up and an elderly runner crashed into her hurting his knee.

Thankfully they are the exceptions because the majority of the competitors in my fun-running category are amazing as they cajole and encourage others, especially when they are struggling in the latter stages having ‘hit the wall’.

It is the sense of camaraderie, both from runners and spectators, that makes it such a special event and, in these dark days in the world, it does restore your faith in humanity as there are is still more good than evil in society.

 

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