JULY 2016: I know many people who have taken on the challenge of running a marathon as one of those must-do things that you have to tick off at some point in your life. And a fair few of those who have embarked on such a challenge with a once-only mind-set have been unable to resist the temptation to return for more of the same the following year, maybe with the objective of completing it in a faster time.
But to return 99 times is beyond the imagination of the majority of us.
In the early hours of Sunday 24 July 2016, Brighton Phoenix runner and regular Brighton Marathon pacer, Brian Friend, accompanied by his best mate, Butch the dog, crossed the finish line of the Lunar-Tic Marathon, which takes place alongside Sussex’s River Adur. This was Brian’s 100th marathon!
Brian, congratulations on such an awesome achievement! How did you celebrate?
I celebrated with cake and beer, of course! As I crossed the finish line I was presented with a cake, complete with burning candles spelling out ‘100’. It was after 1 o’clock in the morning, but a pub in Shoreham High Street was staying open late for us, so a group of us went there. There was no wild party though; most people were too tired for that.
Where did your running originally begin? And at what point did you get an inkling that you might go on to complete 100 marathons?
I joined Sam Lambourne’s distance running squad at Brighton and Hove AC back in 1984, after a year of running unattached. Sam became my mentor, as he was for a lot of the group, and I improved pretty quickly along with many others. (John Doc, the Race Director of Brighton and Hove parkrun, was also part of that group.) It was very exciting being part of the original running boom of the mid-80s and the competitive nature of the group brought us all on. It was never part of any plan to go for a hundred marathons; that only happened two years ago in 2014, believe it or not!
I know you’ve also run a number of ultra-marathons. What’s the furthest you’ve ever run? Are these included in the 100?
I started running ultras in 2012 and really threw myself into them, doing 12 in two years, the longest being the South Downs Way 100. Unfortunately, I was also doing marathons as preparation for the ultras and eventually my left knee became too painful, so I decided to give up the ultras and just do the marathons instead. That’s when the hundred became a plan! I had a count up and found that I was on 73 marathons, so I thought I may as well go for the ton. The 100 Marathon Club allow you to count the first marathon distance of an ultra towards your total, but my hundred are all just marathons. I total the ultras separately, if that makes sense.
There must have been a huge variation of experiences over so many races, in terms of differing terrain, road & off-road, scenery, weather, and so on. Which would you say you enjoyed the most?
I’ve enjoyed them all at different times. In the early days, when I wanted to run as fast as possible, flat road marathons like London were my favourite. I used to love the cross-country season as well, and that seems to have evolved into me preferring trail races now. Running off-road marathons with Butch means as much to me as getting a PB in a big city race used to.
And the toughest?
The off-roaders tend to be the hardest because of the terrain and the conditions underfoot, but if you’re going for a time on the roads, that can wipe you out as well. In fact, the one in which I suffered the most was the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 2013, which is really a double marathon and that’s run on roads. Unfortunately, the weather got too hot for me. I don’t do well in the heat. I suffered severe dehydration and spent 3 hours in a medical tent! My worst trail experience was a 100k race in the Lake District. Up and down those mountain passes on rockstrewn paths destroyed my already dodgy knee, and it persuaded me to leave ultras alone and just enjoy doing marathons.
I get the impression you go out to enjoy the events rather than targeting a specific finish time. But what is your PB?
You’re right, I do go out to enjoy events nowadays. I tend to only do trail races that will allow me to run with Butch. I still like to give a good account of myself, but when you have to spend so much time feeding and watering a dog your times are obviously going to suffer. My PB is 2:44:48 set in the 1985 London Marathon. I’ve run London 13 times in all!
And what do you think is your secret to being able to continually knock out thousands of miles, and seemingly staying relatively injury-free?
Haha, there’s no such thing as staying injury-free. I’ve had all the running injuries down the years; some have laid me off for months. My constant companion (the dodgy left knee) I got as a result of a treadmill accident in 1997, and it was all my own fault. Doh! I like to feel that my glass is half full, because it was so close to ending my running career as the consultant told me “there’s no surgery going to fix that!” Doing core work every day and working out on a cross-trainer twice a week keeps me lighter on my feet and this helps the knee. And I only run four times a week now, to reduce the effects of all the pounding.
What about Butch’s PB? How many marathons has he done with you?
Butch’s PB would be a lot better if it wasn’t for me holding him up! His parkrun PB is 19:25, which can be improved on (if ever I get a big enough gap between marathons). He’s now done 19 marathons.
Every time I see you out running with Butch, he‘s always out in front, lead at full stretch. Does this mean he’s beaten you in every race you’ve done together?
Yep, he always beats me by 3 metres! He gets hyper on the start line of parkrun because he knows that once he’s got the run out of the way he can get everyone at the cafe to throw his frisbee or bone for him.
So, what’s next for Brian and Butch? I get the impression that Lunar-Tic wasn’t your last marathon.
No, not at all, I’m having the time of my life! I only want to run marathons; they’ve become like little adventures for me now. Running a bit further down the field means that I get to mix with more ‘normal’ people instead of the stressed-out guys obsessing over times and performances like I used to! I still get to pick up the odd age-group award, so I’m not exactly hanging about. And, anyway, I’ve got to stay fit in order to fulfil my Brighton Marathon pacing duties!
Brian, congratulations again on making it into the 100 Marathon Club, and good luck to you and Butch in all your future marathons together!
Thank you Mike for adding me to your Hall of Fame!
By Mike Bannister