When I first met Donna, she was an avid and keen runner. She would run at every opportunity. If it had been a long day and she was tired – she would go for a run to unwind. If she had an enjoyable and rewarding day – she would go for a run to celebrate. If she was worried or upset about something – she would go for a run to get it out of her system.
When we met, I still smoked and certainly didn’t run as I had asthma when I tried. However by the time we got married, the asthma was under control, thanks to Nurse Donna, and I had given up smoking.
My first attempt at running was on the North Downs, just near where we were living in Reigate in 1983. Donna persuaded me to run to a tree in the distance, and when we got there she pointed out another tree and we ran to that one. After a short while she told me that we had run about a mile! I had never done that in my life before!
We joined a running club in Oxted, a few miles from Reigate and met a couple that lived there, Althea and Andy who we became good friends with. Together we started training and to my amazement the following year in 1984, I was able to finish a half marathon in Windsor Great Park in 2 hours and 2 minutes.
I enjoyed it, but wasn’t exactly hooked.
Around this time I also had an injury in my back. I was leaning over a pew in church to pick up a hymn book that had fallen on the floor and wasn’t able to stand up straight. I was in a lot of pain. Fortunately Lawrence was there and managed to get me back to our flat, where I laid on the floor unable to move for the next day and a half until I could get to an osteopath.
I also went to a physiotherapist who said the problem was that I spent too much time hunched over a drawing board and didn’t do enough ‘core’ exercise.
I continued to run on and off for the next few years, but it wasn’t until we moved to Worthing that I really took running seriously. When I signed up with the local doctors surgery, I went to see the Asthma Nurse who put me on a regime with new inhalers, and my breathing started to improve – much to Donna’s frustration as she said I had never listened to her before!
It was with great delight that I found with each passing week that I could run further that I had done before. However, the turning point came at Christmas 1995, by which time we had been in Worthing for just over a year.
A marathon in the making
We were staying with Chris and Mark in Otley, and Donna saw an advert for a six mile run across the Chevin on Boxing Day. The Chevin is the ridge of hill behind Otley and it has an ascent of 900 feet. The run was from one side to the other and back. Foolishly I said to Donna that I would join her.
It was a ‘club run’, which meant that all the participants were regular runners and pretty fit. I came last, but I got a T Shirt and was overjoyed.
In my enthusiasm, I announced that I too was going to run a Marathon. (Donna had run the London Marathon in 1982).
It took a further year before I had worked out the details, but I entered the Gosport marathon in 1996. I had wanted to run London, but didn’t get in, and the Gosport marathon was the same weekend, so it was a good backup plan.
On the day, Donna took the children round the submarine museum in Portsmouth whilst I ran. There were only 300 – 400 runners, and at one point I thought I might be lost as there were only a handful of marshals, few supporters and the only directions consisted some small signs on street corners. However, I enjoyed the day, and finished in a respectable time of 4hrs 26 mins.
Of course, the illusive London Marathon beckoned me, and I had to run it the following year in 1997.
A week or two later, when the pain had subsided, I felt I could have run it better and faster, if I trained harder. I knew I had to do it again. I knew I was hooked!
I ran the London Marathon again in 2000. However on the coach back to Worthing, I spoke to someone who said Paris was a much better race and a better course. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could run in another city!
A significant moment happened when training for London in 2000. Donna and I were hosting a church ‘home group’, and I happened to mention that I ran marathons. Kaye Balchin, one of the group, commented that she could never imagine doing that, she couldn’t even run for the bus. I told her about my experience about how Donna had encouraged me to run, and suggested that she came out with me for a run, which she did. We walked / ran to the seafront and back and did a mile, which she was overjoyed about. From there on, I suggested that she work up to doing a ten-mile run with Donna and I. After only a few weeks, she and Donna hit it off and developed a deep and lasting friendship where they were not just running partners, but prayer partners.
The experience made me realise that I wanted to be as inclusive as possible with my newfound hobby. More than that, I was determined to be someone who encouraged others to achieve their potential in whatever they embarked upon.
In 2003, Kaye joined Donna, Catherine Jones, Aunty Maureen and myself in the London Marathon, it was Catherine’s suggestion as she had just turned 40 and wanted to mark the occasion. It was Kaye’s first marathon, and Donna’s second since she ran it 20 years previously. It was a glorious day and we all ran well and had a great time.
In 2005, I was looking for another marathon to run, and suggested that Kaye and Donna joined me in running Paris. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that you needed to apply for a place well in advance, and we didn’t get in.
Looking around for a marathon abroad at a similar time, I suggested that we went instead to Rome, which was agreed upon.
Meeting Martin Satchell
Sometime before in 2000, I also saw Martin Satchell on the seafront whilst I was out for a run, and he waved to me and stuck his thumb up. I had known of Martin and Ros from the short time we were at New Life church. He had recently joined Maybridge Community Church, where I was an elder and one day in church he mentioned that he had given up football, which was his sport and didn’t know what to do. He also mentioned that he was learning Italian. The answer to me was obvious, and I suggested he trained for the Rome Marathon with us. I later found out that my inclusiveness hadn’t gone down very well with Kaye and Donna who were a bit annoyed that I had asked a relative stranger to join us, without asking them! I also asked Luke to join us, as he had recently taken up running, so we had a nice group going.
It turned out to be the first of many happy and successful Marathon weekends.
2006 and health issues for us both
The following year in 2016, I organised a party of 20 to go to Paris Marathon. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to run it as I had a major stomach operation two months beforehand. I was able to run the mini ‘fun run’ of just over two miles however, which was for me, a great achievement considering I thought I might never run again following the operation.
Paris was Donna’s last marathon, as she was in much pain in her knee and required a full knee replacement. To her immense credit she trained solely on the cross trainer at the gym, as she couldn’t risk too training on hard surfaces. She ran the marathon with a knee brace, although it must have extremely difficult and painful. When she approached the finish she was in tears, and the children and I were stretching our arms out through the barricade telling her how much we loved her and we were in tears as well. Afterwards I reflected on that scene and I had to ask the question “what on earth are we were doing it for!!!”
It was with huge relief that in the autumn of 2006 I was able to run in the Berlin Marathon. I had undergone a 10 hour operation in January, and had spent a month in hospital, and really owed my life to the surgeon and his team. As a thank you, I framed this picture in a nice silver frame and gave it to the surgeon.
Over the years, a number of stories and unforgettable incidents have occurred. Many of these have been told and retold over Marathon dinner parties, but I include a couple here that stand out in my mind.
By the year 2000, on my fourth marathon, I had become so used to my training schedule that sometimes I did things automatically. Early one Sunday morning I was due to run about 14 or 15 miles and got up and without thinking, I put on a tracksuit, had a cup of tea and left the house before I was really awake. Ten miles later I realised I hadn’t put any underpants on underneath my tracksuit. I was sore for a week!
Some weeks later I was again out on an early Sunday morning run, and the town was deserted. Running past the hospital and down towards the sea, I spotted in a couple of men standing around looking out of place. I knew they were Mormons, from their suits and briefcases. Since there was no one else around they decided to try and engage me in conversation. I explained that I was happy to talk to them, but I was on a 13 mile run and that they would have to run with me. They kept up with me for about a mile and a half, before admitting defeat! Fortunately for me, I was not only fitter than them but also had studied the Mormons beliefs. When they dropped out, I told them they weren’t committed to their evangelism!
On another occasion I went for a run with Kaye and Donna. Kaye seemed to be steaming ahead and I was trailing behind them both. Rather surprisingly I noticed that Kaye seemed to have missed the turning on the seafront, which led back to our house, and seemed to be carrying on into town. I followed, thinking that she had made a mistake, perhaps not realising how many miles we had done. After half a mile, I noticed she had got faster and I wasn’t able to catch her up. Eventually she turned off the seafront and headed back towards our house. It was when she passed the turning to our road and carried on, that I realised that I was following a complete stranger. In my defence she was blond and without my glasses on, she resembled Kaye. The poor woman must have thought I was stalking her!
As part of training we have all run dozens of half marathons and other races. My favourite memory was the Worthing 20 mile race, which I ran one year in a personal best time of 2hrs 51 minutes. Since it consists of four laps of a five mile circuit, at one point you may find yourself overtaken by the lead runner. When it happened to me, there was a glorious four or five seconds where I was actually running behind the lead car, with the time display on it’s roof. All I could think of was shouting to the crowd “Take me picture! Take my picture!” A few seconds the lead runner (who was five miles in front of me) went past like a bullet.
I enjoyed organising the Marathon weekends, but occasionally my administration skills were lacking. Arriving at Florence railway station, I knew we could catch a bus to our hotel. I even knew the bus number and where the stop was. Confidently I directed everyone on board the bus and we went off. Twenty minutes later, and having gone through an industrial estate and very tedious and uninteresting countryside, the driver stopped for his lunch. What was becoming obvious was that yes, it was the right bus, but we were going in totally the opposite direction. Forty minutes later, arriving back at the town centre we realised that we could have walked to the hotel in under ten minutes!
Arriving at Amsterdam in 2008 with Ros and Martin Satchell, I hailed a cab and gave him the address of the hotel. He drove us to an urban wasteland, stopped the car and said ‘Why do you want to go here?’. I explained that it was near the Olympic stadium, which was where the finish was and where the hotel was situated. He threw up his hands and said “Can you SEE an Olympic stadium?!!” However on this occasion I was right, we just needed to walk over one of the canals and down a street. Perhaps he didn’t live in the area. My honour was preserved!
All the eighteen marathons I have run to date have very special memories. However, two stand out. New York in 2010 and Boston in 2013.
New York 2010
New York was special because it was five years in the planning. At the time, if you applied for a place and were turned down five years in succession, then you automatically got a guaranteed place on the sixth year. So I suggested to Martin that I applied for both of us every year for five years, with the intention of running it on the sixth attempt in 2010. When Donna, Martin and I finally made it to New York, I made up my mind to enjoy every bit of it, because I wasn’t going to run it again. The support was absolutely fantastic and running through all the different boroughs was definitely a unique experience.
I was not able to run Hamburg in 2012, as I had recently had a cartilage repair on one of my knees. However, I still went to support Martin. I had encouraged him that if he could run the marathon in under 3hrs 30mins then he would qualify for an entry to the Boston marathon. Boston is an exclusive event; you have be a fast runner to get a place. Well Martin did qualify so I said I would go with him to Boston.
Boston is not the easiest marathon to support, being an ‘A to B’ route. Since there are no ‘loops’ in the course, supporters have only a limited number of opportunities to cheer on the runners. It was a glorious day and I met up with Martin at the finish. We were looking for somewhere to have a drink and celebrate when suddenly there was a huge bang. I wondered if a cannon had been fired to signify the finish of the event, but within a minute another huge bang sounded, and it was clear it was a bomb. A noticeable wave of disbelief went through the crowd, followed a few seconds later by a palpable wave of panic. Then people started running. It seemed we were a block away from the explosions, probably no more than 400 meters.
The finish was in the city and there wasn’t the usual public park nearby which could absorb numbers of people. This meant that the roads were tightly barricaded and since roads were being closed so that the emergency services could reach the vicinity, we found it was impossible to find a way out of the finish area. I could see Martin was in need of food and some drink, so we went into a bar and asked if they could put the TV on. We sat and had a beer and watched the events only a few hundred meters away unfold on CNN. It was truly bizarre but sickening at the same time. Eventually we managed to get a phone signal and I got a message to Donna and my mother to put the TV on, but that we were ok and unharmed.
The whole of the city went into lock down. The subway closed so we had to walk most of the way back to the apartment, which Martin managed to do. The airport closed, so it was touch and go if we would be able to fly out the following day. Eventually we made it to the Hard Rock with a couple of friends we had made, who had just got engaged that day. We had a drink on the house when they found out we had witnessed the bombs going off. Everyone was extremely friendly and generally looking out for each other. It was extraordinary.
When we got back the local papers interviewed Martin. It’s a funny thing, but whenever I say the name “Pete” on the phone, people always mishear it and think its “Keith”. This happens to me time and time again. The newspaper article was no exception. I think I am going to have to change my name!
As the years went by, I encouraged others to join the group, including Phil Robins and Victoria Birdsell. I have been delighted to see what a friendship has resulted from this little group. I also tried to develop more inclusive ways of running as it became obvious that everyone had different running abilities. And so I looked for marathons that included either a half marathon or a marathon relay into the weekend, so that everyone could participate. The marathon relay has proved fun, as it involves some logistics as the runners need to get to particular places at the right time, in a city they are unfamiliar with.
It has been a huge delight to me to see the next generation embracing running. Whilst they have all run road races, they have developed different interests. Luke has encouraged the girls to join the Hash House Harriers, like his Grandad before him. (They call the Hash a group of drinkers with a running problem!) Together they have run the Medoc Marathon and the Beer Marathon in Belgium. Jess is particularly keen on trail running. Alana, like her mother, finds that she needs to run to relieve stress and have ‘down time’.
There is so much I could write about running and what it has meant to me over the years. The marathon is such an amazing event, everyone wins and everyone has a story about how he or she got there and what they have achieved over and beyond running 26.2 miles. As someone once said, “if you want to win a race, run the 100 meters, if you want to EXPERIENCE a race, run the marathon!”. Or as Martin said, only two things moves him to tears, a woman giving birth and someone running the marathon!
What matters most
I enjoy both the loneliness and the camaraderie of running. One the one hand, running totally alone across the South Downs on a beautiful day is an amazing experience. I feel close to God, and I feel free and just absorb the beauty of the surrounding countryside. My mind unwinds and I don’t notice the fact that I am running.
However running together with friends and family is an experience that just can’t be beaten. Perhaps the most special and memorable runs have been since the children grew up, when we can go out and enjoy the countryside and enjoy each other’s company. I appreciate those times most, because it may not always be like this. I know that as they go on with their lives, those opportunities may not always be there. But whilst they are, I am determined to enjoy the moment and share the experience with them.
For the record, these are the marathons I ran:
New York 2010