MATTHEW RICHARDS was the Reading Roadrunners star on a blisteringly hot day at the Virgin London Marathon.
Richards was the first Roadrunner home in the sensational time of two hours 32 minutes and 39 seconds.
His red-hot performance matched the temperature in the capital as he ran a new personal best time, eclipsing even the brilliant time produced by Mark Worringham at Brighton a week previously.
The club’s 20-miles record holder (left) showed he could add another storming 10k to that distance, running a personal best and a negative split to finish 45th overall.
Apart from Richards, a lot of his club colleagues wilted in the heat and there was general disappointment that what people had trained for so hard for so long was simply impossible on the warmest-ever day in the history of the race.
A lot of victims of the 24-hour heatwave felt like losers afterwards, but the winners could turn out to be the organisers of the Abingdon Marathon. Roadrunners are already queuing to sign up for the Oxfordshire event on October 21st, determined to use their training in more favourable conditions.
Back at Greenwich, the options were simply to scale back on one’s ambitions… or pay the price!
There were personal bests on the day for Liz Atkinson, Sarah Richmond-De’voy and, of course, the Queen of Improvements Gemma Buley (3:33.37, pictured right), but the real Roadrunners stars were right at the back of the field, where Hannah McPhee and Jenny Gale took over seven and a half hours to complete their brave, roasting journey.
Our athletes set off boosted by a string of helpful tips from club marathon record holder Keith Russell, who must have known his figures weren’t going to be threatened in such conditions.
Most people’s experience was summed up in a nutshell by Steve Ridley: “I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be able to hit a PB, so started backing off. Wheels came off properly from miles 14-18…”
Another of the club’s elite runners, Seb Briggs, who had been the first Roadrunner to finish in 2017, said: “Absolutely astounding from Matthew Richards, who managed an incredible time and placement. Brilliant work.
“The Roadrunners at Mile 23 were fantastic again and it’s difficult to overstate how much of a boost they give you at what is probably the hardest part of the 26.2.”
Briggs (below) admitted that his time of 2:42.14 was way off what he envisaged when he started training for the event back in December. “But it was more than acceptable considering the heat,” he said.
“My time was put into perspective by the fact that I finished in the top 200. I started the race with a target time for 2:35 but with the energy-sapping heat and my right leg starting to cramp up I had to readjust my target and enjoy the experience.
“I had the pleasure of running alongside the impressive Brendan Morris for the majority of the way. Approaching 30k he told me he didn’t think he could sustain his pace before speeding off while I chugged along, seeing him go further and further into the distance. Cheers for that!”
Brendan, the hero of a ‘secret’ half-marathon victory in the capital a month before, said: “I tried to reserve some energy to pick up the pace in the final 10k but when I put the hammer down I simply couldn’t get my legs to go any quicker.
“The last few miles seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t look up at the scaffolded Big Ben as it seemed a hell of a long way away and not getting any closer.
“I knew the PB was not a possibility from five miles out but I was still happy with my time (2:41.48) taking into account the conditions on the day.
“It was clear a lot of people were struggling in the heat. I was hoping for a top-250 finish, so finding out I had come in at 183rd confirmed it was a run I should be happy with.”
Another runner to take a realistic view of the conditions was Alex Harris, who said: “It was one of those days when you just had to focus on survival and getting round safely. Pretty much everyone was way off their target time.”
That didn’t stop Alex, recently new to the V50 age category, from coming within nine seconds of a personal best with a time of 2:56.58.
“I didn’t look at my time until there was 600 metres to go and by then it was too late,” he said.
“I was totally cooked after eight miles and I couldn’t see how I could finish, so I stopped looking at pace/splits and just focused on getting round.
“Anyway I was really happy with my time as the conditions were brutal.”
Those conditions caused a scare for Sarah Dooley, who collapsed at the finished and was wheeled off to the medical tent without being able to collect her medal and goody bag.
“The race was a bit of a disaster for me,” she said. “I had to make two toilet stops due to stomach cramps, then I had trouble breathing in the last few hundred metres and couldn’t breathe when I crossed the line.”
Sarah still managed to complete the course in a highly creditable 3:39.10.
Another runner to make several toilet stops was my training partner Joe Blair, but that was because he was sensibly taking on board plenty of water.
Joe, doing the Brighton-London double on consecutive weekends due to charity commitments, said: “I decided to follow collective advice and start slowly. That paid huge dividends.
“I took on water every mile, mainly to douse my hat, wrists and neck. But the heat really drains you and in truth I still had a bit of Brighton in my legs.
“I finished comparatively strongly and it was only when I finished that I allowed myself to accept the achievement of two marathons in eight days. So far I’ve raised over £2,400 for my charity, Marie Curie.
“The heat took quite a few casualties and I’m just grateful that I made it round.”
One of those casualties occurred near the Roadrunners marshalling at Mile 23. There Chris Manton had to carry a fallen runner off the course to the medical facilities.
Another runner upset by the heat was our own Melanie Shaw, disappointed not to be in a position to challenge for a PB after a year out with an injury deferral.
“I was totally wiped out by the heat,” she said. “You’ve no idea how hard it was out there today.”
Back out on the course, Hannah (right) and Jenny, the bravest of the brave, were still battling and it was almost 6.20pm when they finally made it to the Mall.
Roadrunners’ ladies captain Sam Whalley paid this tribute to her girls: “Huge kudos to Hannah and Jenny; I can’t imagine what it must have taken to keep going in those conditions.
“It took me back to the disaster that was Brighton 2017, where the high temperatures had me reduced to an alternating walk/shuffle for the second half of the race.
“Anyone who ran yesterday should be really proud of themselves for getting round. Look what the heat did to that marathon great, Mary Keitany. It was an exceptional day.”
The Roadrunners’ spirit was summed up by Seb Briggs when he said: “Looking forward to next year already.”