Andy H reports…
In October each year, as part of BBC Children in Need, Chris Evans holds a week of charity auctions on his Radio 2 breakfast show. The experiences are incredible and one of them is the marathon package. It includes a Steve Cram training weekend, London marathon, Windsor half marathon and New York marathon.
On the day of the marathon package auction, I spoke with Sal and said I was thinking of bidding. She encouraged me to do so it’s such a great cause but on the condition that if I won, I wasn’t to get injured! I decided our leaky roof could stay leaky for another year and placed my bid. At one point my bid was top of the pile and as the show progressed I slipped down the list. When Chris Evans read the final list of seven lucky winners, I just hung on! Result! I kept it quiet and only one or two people who listened to the show actually realised who Andy from Somerset might be. I decided to contain my eagerness to tell everyone and kept the whole thing a secret.
Toward the end of December I started on a Shane Roach training plan. If I was to meet running idols like Steve Cram and Paula Radcliffe, I needed to train properly and do a decent marathon time. In January, training went well and in early February me and my fellow package runners went to Steve Cram’s training camp in Kielder. As soon as we arrived, those of us who wanted to were whisked off to run 10k. Who should be driving the mini-bus but Steve Cram. He is such a nice, down to earth chap. The weekend was great; extremely informative and good fun. It was also a reminder that I haven’t done nearly enough strength and conditioning work or stretching! The group of Children in Need winners are a great bunch and we got on extremely well from the start. London would be the first or second marathon for the others so from that perspective I was the odd one out.
A couple of weeks later injury struck! Hamstring, sciatic nerve, piriformis. Physios gave me all manner of exercises to do; put their elbow in my backside and said to take it easy until the marathon. I did what I could but it was a slow recovery. Normally, I would have deferred the entry and maybe also done a marathon later in the year but that wasn’t an option – this London marathon experience was not going to be like any other. I just hoped that I could run through the injury on the day and make sure that I enjoyed the whole weekend.
The marathon weekend arrived. We were all very nervous about the race and our forthcoming appearance on the Chris Evans breakfast show. A few drinks helped calm the nerves. As we waited outside the studio at the BBC on Friday morning, in walked Steve Cram, Paula Radcliffe and Alison Curbishly (former 400m runner and Steve’s partner). They greeted us like long lost friends. We all headed into Chris Evans’ studio and were given our first bit of air time as Chris introduced each of us. After that more celebrities arrived (Keeley Hawes, Gemma Arterton, Dennis Quaid and Texas played live). Chris then asked who amongst us had done the most marathons. He was a bit shocked that I had done forty-odd and so I got a bit more air time. I may have slipped in that I had done the Marathon de Sable in the hope that would impress Steve and Paula. I got a round of applause from all the celebrities. Was this really happening?!?!
At the end of the show, we ran out of the building and through the photographers with Chris, Paula, Steve and Alison. We jogged through the streets and into Regents Park eventually stopping at a café for breakfast. Just chatting and having a laugh. So surreal.
Dinner that night was at Theo Randall’s restaurant with Steve, Alison, Paula, Vassos Alexander and Martin Yelling. Vassos has done a few ultras so I may have told him about mine!! Again it just felt we were amongst friends and I think and hope that Paula, Steve et al enjoyed the evening as much as we did.
By Saturday morning, Sal and Jack had joined me and we moved to the Tower hotel. It’s where a lot of elite athletes stay. So many of the guests looked mega fit…. lungs on legs! That evening we were taken to an Italian restaurant for a bit more carb-loading. Chris and his family joined us. Jack was sparring with Chris’ son and I had a drink or two with Chris – just a normal Saturday night! Another fun evening and I had almost forgotten I had to run a marathon next day. I had long since decided this was about enjoying the weekend rather than worrying too much about the marathon. I must admit I did slightly regret that sentiment when I woke up early next morning feeling a lot less than fit and raring to go.
In the morning we were given a celebrity wrist band and bussed to the start. That felt a long journey and I craved fresh air. Ours was the green start which I think is the charity place start. We were shown to the VIP tent with its own posh toilets. Soon we were interviewed by BBC TV and at that point I knew my secret was definitely out!! Just before the start, the runners queued at the start were asked to move back so we could squeeze in on the start line with the other celebrities. A few more photos and we were off.
I ought to say a bit about the race. It wasn’t great for me! It started off ok; being at the front at the start meant being taken along a bit but still with loads of people overtaking me. My leg started to hurt but as I had hoped, it did seem to get better by about 8-9 miles so I can’t really use that as an excuse but by about 14 miles I wondered if I could go on. I did get going again but had another bad patch at 18-20 miles. Thankfully the last 4 miles were a bit better. I tried to enjoy the final couple of miles and take it all in. I had my name (“Humpo” – an old nickname because Andy seemed a bit boring) on my Children In Need vest and so the crowd were shouting that out. At one point I was paying more attention to my audience than the road ahead so tripped on something and fell over. Poor Humpo! I was struggling on my back like and upturned tortoise until a couple of runners helped me up.
The highlight of the run and perhaps the whole weekend happened just before the finish. Steve Cram had told us to look out for their commentary box on the left-hand side. I did and they obviously saw me too. Steve and Paula put down their headsets and rushed down the steps of their commentary box to cheer me (yes, little old me!) across the line. That was an experience of a life time. I could give up running a happy man now – but won’t. My finish time was 3hrs 51m. I think my slowest on the road but what a weekend and it wasn’t quite finished yet.
We reconvened at a pub with Chris and the rest of the Children in Need runners. We thought that would be the end of it but not quite. Chris Evans invited us back to the Radio 2 breakfast show next morning. Those of us who could stay in London went back to the studio. Each of us were interviewed again and our final bit of rubbing shoulders with celebrities was meeting Bananarama!
I really can’t thank everyone involved in that weekend enough. They all made it so very special. Hiten, aka Frothy Coffee Man, who is Chris Evans’ PA did so much to make us feel like celebrities for the weekend and he succeeded.