Cliff Taylor’s first marathon (1981): From a run to a shuffle

Taylor had to add six months to his age to compete in the first ever London marathon

Competitors (Cliff Taylor not pictured...) in the first  London marathon in 1981. Photograph: Getty

Competitors (Cliff Taylor not pictured...) in the first London marathon in 1981. Photograph: Getty

 

The American passed me around eight or nine miles. “You’re going well,” he said. “You’ll finish under 2.50. IF you can keep the pace going.”

It was March 29th, 1981, and we were running the first London marathon.

Inspired – like London – by the New York Marathon, the first Dublin marathon had taken place the previous October. I had planned to run, but a student Euro rail trip intervened. Then came the idea of London. I had run student cross-country races – not particularly quickly – for a few years. A couple of us signed up for London, adding six months to our age to meet the minimum 19-year-old requirement The long training runs needed for the marathon were a struggle, particularly as they had to be done in winter.

Almost 8,000 people ran the first London marathon, a fraction of today’s participation. But the roads were packed with crowds. I flew past the landmarks - the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and into the Isle of Dogs. Nowadays it is full of skyscrapers – back then it was old warehouses and underpasses. At about 16 miles I realised I was slowing. At 18 it got serious. This was the wall and it wasn’t pleasant.

I remember the run turning into a shuffle. I remember the carpet over the cobbles by the Tower of London and how long the last 10k felt. I remember the joy at seeing the finish line, close to Buckingham Palace. I remember the rain. And I remember the immense relief of just being able to stop running. The time 3 hours, 10 minutes and one second, is engraved on my brain. The winners had crossed an hour earlier.

I’ve no idea what time the American did, but I had plenty of time later to reflect on the “if”. Because if there is one lesson for first time marathon runners, it is don’t start too fast. If you have trained properly and rested up, you will be full of energy. You need to start at a speed that feels easy. And then slow a bit more . Because the old marathon saying – that 20 miles is only half way – isn’t far off the truth.

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