Every now and again I see an event that is so special that I have to enter. Such was the case with the Original Marathon – a project that recreated the marathon held at the London Olympics in 1908, the event that gave us the distance of 26.2 miles and today defines the ultimate test in endurance sport.

On 16th March I was woken by Josie (my eight month old cavapoo) licking my face at 6am.  I didn’t mind really as I hadn’t really slept well as I seemed to wake repeatedly throughout the night for some reason thinking my alarm wasn’t going to go off.  I headed to London on the train with my triple sausage bap and coffee (essential fuel).  I was looking forward to joining the other 74 runners as we set to follow in the footsteps of legends as we retraced the original and first ever 26.2 mile marathon from Windsor to White City, the 1908 Olympic marathon.  There is a small section of the original route that is no longer accessible for pedestrians so we would detour a little making the total distance 27.5 miles.

Brian with man dressed as an original marathon runner

All 75 runners (the total number of Olympians registered to run in 1908) gathered at the registration point in Windsor whilst we were blessed with glorious sunshine and accompanied by the Guards marching band as they arrived for the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle. The atmosphere was amazing, and the town was packed with the usual hustle and bustle of tourists.  

Diccon, the event organiser, gave the race briefing and told everyone some of the history of the event and that this would only be the seventh time athletes will have ever run the original marathon route.  This really was going to be something special.

It was going to be a pretty tough marathon as there were only three feed stations!  So, most runners were wearing hydrations vests, with pockets filled with gels.  We were all organised into groups who would be led by a pacer who would guide a group as a set pace.  We were all advised to download the route onto our smart watches and phones in case we got separated from our pacer.  And to assist us finding our way, there were also red ribbons tied to lampposts along the way, about every 150 meters.

Runners being briefed before the Original Marathon

Replicating the 1908 event, we waited for the Guards band to march past following the changing of the guard and the first pacer group set off at 11.30am.  I was in the fourth group and waiting to go when I realised I was feeling a bit hungry.  I just hadn’t thought it through that we would be close to lunch time, and I should have taken something else to eat at around 11am.

Guards in Windsor

We were off and my group was struggling to navigate our way through the crowds on the Windsor streets.  We dropped down the hill from the castle and over the bridge into Eton, where we passed the only remaining 1908 directional sign, informing us we had 25 miles/40.2 km to go.  We headed on through Slough and towards Uxbridge where we would detour through the beautiful Langley Country Park.  

Before I knew it, we were at the first feed station at the Black Horse pub, 6 miles into the route.  I grabbed a banana and asked if anyone knew how to get water through my feed tube from my hydration vest.  I’ve never run with a hydration vest, and it only arrived in the post late afternoon, the day before the marathon. So, I hadn’t had the time to practice running with the vest or learn how to open the mouthpiece to be able to drink!

We ran through the busy streets of Uxbridge and onto Ruislip where our second feed station was at approximately 12 miles into the route.  Another banana and we were off again following our pacer, but somehow I found myself running with the faster group.  I’d been totally distracted chatting with other runners I hadn’t realised I was no longer with my original group.

Brian running

Following the pleasant roads through Eastcote, we were soon over the halfway point and negotiating our way through Harrow and then heading South towards Wembley.  Our final feed station was at 18 miles.  We arrived at the ‘8 miles to go’ sign and I started to let the pacer and one other runner pull away from me.  Our group had dwindled down to just the three of us and it was time for me to just settle into my own pace.

Now running on my own I was beginning to get concerned about drifting off the route.  It was easy to forget to keep looking out for the red ribbons, but a great sense of relief every time you spotted one.  I did get to a couple of really busy road crossings where I couldn’t see any ribbons, but the route is relatively straight, so I’d just keep going and there would always be another ribbon ahead.

At the ‘3 miles to go’ sign I wished it said one mile to go.  It was time for another gel and to just keep going. And when I got to the ‘1 mile to go’ sign, I was so pleased.  I crossed my last busy road of the route and turned into White City.  A supporter was in the distance cheering me on and pointing in the direction of the finish line.  And finally, I crossed the line that only 24 of the 55 athletes who lined up at the beginning of the 1908 Olympic marathon reached.  I was presented with my replica 1908 Olympic marathon medal.

Brian crossing the finish line

The morning sunshine had disappeared as we ran into London, masked in cold damp air.  I was glad to get a couple of additional layers on and get on a warm train home.  With a smile on my face, I spent the journey home updating family and friends and telling them all about the amazing event of retracing the route of the original 1908 marathon.

Brian with his medal

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