Tom Cheetham notched up the penultimate race on his mission to complete 100 marathons, when he ran 3:07:54 in the Brighton event on the South Coast, writes Tom Pollak.
He finished 347th of the 8,387 runners to complete the race and was one of the fastest veterans over-55 in the event. Now he is looking forward to October, when he will set off around the streets of London for what will be not only a ‘century’ of marathons, but his 20th appearance in the London race.
Cheetham, who will celebrate his 56th birthday a month after the London race, ran his first marathon, also in London, in April 1991, when he clocked 5:06:00. His best time, set in London in 2015, is 2:59:37.
Even in October 2020 on the day when the mass participation London event was forced to go ‘virtual’, Cheetham opted to run around Dorney Lake in the grounds of Eton College, home to London 2012 Olympic rowing events, in his 93rd marathon. In 2021 he was back in the London event for real, and delighted to clock a time that was only 21 seconds slower than he had achieved eighteen months earlier in 2019.
“It was great to have the event back again and to be enjoying the crowds and the landmarks”, he said.
So of the 99 events – which have taken him from Dublin to the Isle of Wight and Caen in France – which was his favourite race?
Cheetham said: “August 2014, when I first went under three hours in the Thames Meander Marathon, which is over multi-terrain along the Thames towpath from Kingston to Barnes and back.” He finished in 2:59:39 over a course he has run many times since with remarkable consistency, despite the often difficult conditions. Last year’s race – his 96th marathon – was “in brutal conditions, with torrential rain – it was not a marathon I will forget in a hurry”.
In April 2015 he ran an almost identical time to that achieved over the Thames Meander course to go under three hours again, with 2:59:37, in London, his PB by just two seconds.
“My least favourite marathon was in London again, in April 1999, when I fell at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment,” said Cheetham. “I damaged my front tooth and cut my right knee very badly but carried on despite the injury and finished in 3:57:00.”
Cheetham received an award in 2020 for completing 200 parkruns, in addition to a full programme of road and cross country racing for Hercules Wimbledon.
He is also partial to the Parachute Regiment 10 TAB (tactical advance to battle) race, in which participants race over 10 miles of undulating multi-terrain, carrying a rucksack weighing 35lb, excluding food and water. He has also taken on the Doko Challenge with the Gurkhas, carrying a traditional Nepalese Doko basket weighing 15kg for 5km up a steep hill, as well as the Fan Dance, which involves climbing Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, twice, again carrying a 35 pound rucksack.
Over the more sedate route in Brighton he was delighted with himself for finishing ahead of his 49-year-old team-mate Felix Allen, who was 426th in 3:12:25 only a week after running a faster 2:59:40 in the Paris Marathon.
Two other Hercules Wimbledon veterans were happy with their times after grappling with injury. Simon Woodley, 45, clocked 3:15:54, a PB by four seconds, in finishing 538th after suffering a slipped disc last year; and Charles Hampden-Smith, 60, achieved his target of a sub 3:30 time, finishing 931st in 3:28:21 despite being hampered by a sore hip.