I once ran in the same race as Zola Budd

This weekend it is the London Marathon and a good friend is running trying to finish before his 70th Birthday (in June). He is running for the Salvation Army – all is explained in his Charity page. When the London Marathon first started it was such a great event that even I thought that I should have a go – oh the foolishness of youth!

I ran at school (cross country and the half mile) when I didn’t have the time to take my preferences of rugby or rowing seriously enough. Not that I was particularly good although I was later a regular in my university 2nd XV and at school I have fond memories of afternoons spent in an eight on Wilsham Reach. Indeed my very tenuous connection with the success of the British Olympic Rowing Squad is that in the School Inter-House Regatta one year I rowed in a boat coxed by the now Performance Director of British Rowing  and he rowed in the boat that I coxed.

But back to running, and not only is my friend running in the Marathon but my son and  daughter-in-law are keen on wild running – off road tracks with obstacles. In June they have got a team together to do the 10 kilometre  WOLF Run. One of their team has set up a charity page for the team to raise money for an all-terrain wheelchair for a boy at our granddaughters’ school who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.


What about Zola (Budd not Emile)? About 11 years ago I was invited to join the BTG charity fundraising team entered for the London 10k after a couple of the original team dropped out. I agreed on condition that I was allowed to walk rather than run. I know my limits. I would have loved to run it but that was completely unrealistic since I only agreed to do it a week before the race, and I had never run that far in my life (I think that twice round the sewage farm, which was our school cross country course, was about three miles). As a fully paid up member of the British Rail Sprinting Club (I had a season ticket and sometimes had to run for the train) my current limit was about 50 yards. However the distance would be no problem provided I didn’t do anything silly like running – I just wanted to make sure that I got round before the roads were reopened to traffic.

Sunday dawned (as it usually does).

We drove into London in very light traffic and parked.  Then off to Green Park to join the milling throng. Other people on the tube are obviously heading for the race (the number pinned to their tee shirts is a bit of a clue) although the ones doing stretches may just be coming down from Saturday night.

Out into the daylight at Green Park and I head for the loo. Gosh some of those chaps queuing for the cubicles look rather female – oh they are female and fed up with the even longer queues on their side. Oh well if they don’t mind neither do I. The crowds are strolling up Piccadilly heading to the start  at Hyde Park Corner. There is a drone of helicopters overhead which drowns out the announcements being made over the loudspeakers “hrmphity hrumph minims to the scart” I think it said.

As I join the happy throng I find myself next to a bear in fireman’s uniform. There are apparently six of these creatures running for the Firemen’s Benevolent Fund. I guess they are used to being in hot places but I don’t envy them walking let alone running 10k in this heat.  The Scots Guards come down the race route in their bearskins and kilts playing their bagpipes. I think that if they can do the course in that gear then I had better finish before tea.

They are off. A flurry of vehicles heads down the road followed by the first of a tide of 15,000 runners, hobblers and assorted athletes. I later discover that somewhere in this group are serious Kenyan and Tanzanian runners and even a few names I recognise like Zola Pieterse  (Zola Budd to you older readers). I continue walking towards the start line.

Twelve minutes later we are crossing the cobbles on thoughtfully laid mats (it wouldn’t do to have 14,000 runners with twisted ankles) and suddenly everyone, except me, had moved up a gear and changed from walking to trotting (we were still too close together to run). Down Piccadilly thousands of people jockeying for position some of them barging their way through because they had got up too late to be closer to the start with the faster runners.

Heading along Pall Mall I was being stalked by a London Ambulance car. I think the driver had a vulture sitting on his shoulder. By Trafalgar Square I had caught up with the Scot’s Guards who had stopped to entertain the pigeons and passers-by. The first water station loomed and I gladly took a bottle.

On to the Embankment and I was really getting in to my stride when I passed our teams leading runners – but they were on the way back along the Embankment while I was still on the outward leg going the other way. Encouragement was being given by various entertainers from Loughborough Students Dance Group to a Steel Band. I preferred the Steel Band.

I was surprised how quickly I got to Blackfriars Bridge. Then it was dashing around in the road tunnels near St Paul’s like demented ferrets. At one point there were runners further on in the course coming towards me from two different directions.  Eventually we found our way out and it was still daylight! I was starting to pass runners who had ‘blown up’ so everything was going to plan.

Along the Embankment I have a few words of appreciation for the Steel Band and nod to the cormorant sitting on the post near Cleopatra’s needle. I fix my sights on the London Eye and watch the kilometre markers  speed past. A few people are dropping out with heat exhaustion..

I pass the London Eye and spy the 8k marker. I wonder how two more kilometres can be fitted in between here and the end. The organisers have a cunning plan – we do some zigging and then we do some zagging. First the zig across Westminster Bridge, then we zag back. Then a zig up to Parliament Square and a zag back to the Embankment. This should have warned me.

A few of the runners are in great distress and even have to be taken off by the London Vulture Service. Many more find that they have to drop down to walking pace or are helped to the finish by colleagues.  I wonder if I am hallucinating when I see a white rabbit coming towards me, but then I remember that I had seen it near the start so all is well.

I  break into a jog when I turn into Whitehall thinking I was headed towards the finish only to discover to my disgust that while I have done my last zig I have another zag to go. So back to walking for another couple of hundred yards. It did remind me that walking is a more sensible way of getting round than running which seems to involve far too much hard work. The clock at the finish shows that I have completed the course in a tad over 90 minutes.

As for Zola she was a long distance Olympic athlete born in South Africa who somewhat controversially ran for Britain when South Africa was banned from international athletics because of its apartheid policy. She ran the full 10k, I ran 50 yards an hour later but it was in the same race.

One thought on “I once ran in the same race as Zola Budd

  1. Quick update – our friend finished the London Marathon about half past five today and has raised over £4,000 for the Salvation Army! Great effort.


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