Andrew Burgess has run over 200 marathons (with no signs of slowing down) and has become somewhat of a Maidstone Harriers legend. We recently asked him to share his running story as its one we thought couldn’t go unheard.
Bath Spa Railway Station, platform 1, one Friday morning in mid December 1983. I was on my way home at the end of my first term at university. Little did I dream, as I walked towards the one other student who was waiting for the same train as me, that this was to be a life-changing meeting. Her name was Sarah, and she was studying Sociology. Like me, she had just completed her first term, and was on her way home for Christmas. I really don’t know how our conversation turned to the topic of running, but it transpired that she had run the Bungay marathon earlier on in the year. These were the early days of the London marathon. I had listened to the finish of the first one in my bedroom at home, on the radio. Something in my mind said that I wanted to run a marathon one day.
Fast forward to 1990. I had been working in Kent for a year and a half, and the young lady I had sought to impress in 1984 came back into my life. She made me realise that I needed some way to release some of the stresses of teaching, and persuaded me to take up running again. I ran 257 miles that year, including my second half marathon in 2.24, a time which remains a personal worst to this day. I had been too busy reading all those articles in running magazines about how to perform to your best, and had limited myself to a race a month, and with lots of rest in between. In terms of keeping my stress levels down, it worked, and it gave me something to aim for the following year.
The early 90s taught me many things as a runner. The first was that, no matter how smart I trained, I was never going to be an elite athlete. The second was that I quite enjoyed running with other people. The number of events I entered went up, and I was getting a PB almost every time I ran. What a great confidence boost! Sometime in 1993, I joined the now defunct Medway A.C. and ran in their colours for about three years. Although my performances were improving, albeit more slowly, I never really felt like I belonged to the club. The turning point came after one of the earlier Sittingbourne 10s. A group of club members were warming down while waiting to collect their prizes, and not a single one acknowledged me as I ran past them on my way to the finish.
In May 1997, or thereabouts, I joined Maidstone Harriers, making my debut for the club at the Boughton (nr. Canterbury) 10K. The following Wednesday, I did my first ever club run – the Two Bridges route out of the Westborough Centre. And promptly got lost. That experience, if anything, has seen me trying to run with people who were / are far too quick (or slow) for me, to ensure that they don’t suffer a repeat of what happened to me that evening. None of our Wednesday Night Club runs are 9 miles normally, although I am aware of a few who have run further (just mention Wateringbury to the longer-standing members).
I remained predominantly a road runner until about 2011, taking on any distance that was going. I had been fortunate enough to run London 10 times between 1993 and 2011 – I have only run it four times since. The turning point in my running career actually came in 2007. After a few years of trying to persuade me to do the Kent Coastal Marathon for the Kent Grand Prix points, Bob Foster finally succeeded. A second bout of marathon training for the year ensued, but it got me wondering whether I could use that training to do more than one marathon, and if so, which?
November 10th 2007 saw me meeting up with Russell Morling and Michael White in a breezy car park on the edge of Hackney Marshes, while we awaited our minibus to the start of the Five-2-Go marathon (Five years to go until the London Olympics). We were joined at the start by Julie Wing who was, and remains, an inspiration to this day. It was at this event that I discovered the existence of the 100 Marathon Club, and that, far from all shooting off way into the distance, there was a fair number of their members who were behind me. My head started doing the Maths. It was my third marathon of the year. It was my 12th marathon. If I did three a year, I would be 70 when I reached the 100. If I did four a year, I would be 64. In 2008, I ran 4 marathons.
In 2009, I completed 5 marathons, discovering the delights of Halstead for the first time. 2010 was a lean year. I didn’t get into London, so had a lazy Spring, and family commitments meant that I could only run one event. By this time, we had been joined at Maidstone Harriers by a man named Traviss Willcox. At the time, he seemed to be running marathons most weeks, in his quest to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest person to reach 100 marathons. Fed up with getting goodie bags from events which contained leaflets for local physiotherapists and sachets of dog biscuits, he decided to set up his own event, and I am still proud to say that I was one of the few who ran the very first Saxon Shore marathon in December 2011 (along with Paul German, although I didn’t know him at the time). I can also claim to be the first person to get “lost” on one of those events as I, and a small group of others, ran happily though the gate which was supposed to be the turn-around point.
My mother once asked me how many marathons I planned to run. My answer was 101. 100 to claim the blue and yellow shirt, and one to wear it. The trouble is, I haven’t stopped yet. True, it’s
nearly 5 years since I last ran a 10K or a half marathon, but I have done the odd ten mile race in the meantime. I also have my favourite events where I can be considered a regular: the Cliffe Woods 5 and the Benfleet 15 (Julie Wing, you have a lot to answer for in getting me involved in this one).
The other thing I am often asked is about my favourite races. Leaving aside the fact that you never forget your first marathon, and that London is special, albeit very hard to get into these days, honourable mentions must go (in calendar order) to the Benfleet 15, the Folkestone 10, Halstead marathon, Cliffe Woods 5, Race the Train (Tywyn) and Marathon Eryri (Snowdonia, for those who insist on its English name). As for my least favourites, I’m not putting those into print!
So, what next? As runners, we all love a target, so here are my current ones: 300 marathons (to feature on the World rankings list) and at least 100 road marathons and 100 ultras as well – both of which represent stiff challenges. Oh, and a 100 mile PB. If anyone fancies joining me, you’ll be more than welcome!