40-40-40 - Chester Marathon
In 2011, as often occurs when I'm out on a long training run, I dreamt up the idea of 40-40-40 - thinking I could reach my 40th marathon the Sunday just after I turned 40 and with over three years to build towards it, get 40 others running the same event.  Sounded fairly easy and with that amount of time, achievable!  Sometimes I should forgot the ideas I have when I'm out running and leave them out on the road whilst training!!

I announced the plan in December 2011 at a charity ball which concluded the 10th anniversary year's range of events.  That gave me over 40 months to run 14 more marathons and recruit 40 runners (or less as a few signed up on the spot, albeit three of those then withdrew before it happened for various reasons).  The least of the challenges was running the other 14 - which I managed (thanks to my health remaining in a good state alongside my body!), but getting the rest done kept me busy.  (To race report)
With two years to go I started a direct approach to friends, family and associates inviting them to sign up for the 4 October 2015 at a as yet to be decided venue (a short list of likely options was presented based on usual dates of UK marathons).  By October 2014 I had over 30 people on board, including  a number of first timers as well as more experienced club runners.  Those signed up at this stage then got the chance to vote on 6 choices that I confirmed would be having their 2015 marathon on the magic date (4 October).  Bournemouth, Jersey, Mablethorpe, Great Clarendon Way and Kielder were beaten by Chester and with ten months to go a venue was confirmed.  

All credit to the Chester Marathon Team, and particularly Linda Worrell, who were very helpful in helping making the 40-40-40 possible.  They allowed me to enter 40 runners on bulk, without names at the cheaper entry fee and created a specific entry form for the team.  By mid January 40places were secured - I now had to get commitment (and entry fee) from 40 people.  On the part of marathon number 40 I'd reached 37 and entered number 38 (Cyprus) much the same time and lined up Luxembourg not much later as number 39.  The third "40" was approaching and I guess the easiest to make happen - I just needed to keep my heart beating being the bottom line!
I emailed all those yeses and maybe's at that point seeking some firm commitment, an entry fee and off we'd go.  The first 10-12 were signed up fairly swiftly and 11 of them had been on the original yes list.  Chris Britton (who'd had four weeks cycling in 2014 with me referring to his first marathon) was the first paid up entry. In fact I think he was the first confirmed entry by way of submitting his entry form too.  (I realised a month later I hadn't sent my own form off still!) However, I was also getting the inevitable withdrawals.  One due to doubting a completion within 6 hours, which had always been a possible issue, another due to an ongoing injury that clearly wasn't going to clear up whilst others I felt more frustrated by as they had entered other events on the same date.  However, they were up front about it and let me know straight away.  As the months progressed the entry list did too and I began to accept entries from people who had a link to another team member (so effectively didn't know them!) but had realised the challenge of getting 40 people to say yes to the marathon was far harder than I had hoped.

Alongside this I was planning a celebration of all things 40 the same weekend.  Like it or not I was going to change age (become a Veteran in running terms as you become a V40 (Men aged 40-44), the traditional youngest specified adult age category in men's distance running), so I may as well mark the occasion with more than just a marathon (and avoid anyone else trying to do it for me!).  Another lesson to learn - planning a celebration for a large group of friends and family in a City you have never visited with a venue suitably sized and doing catering at a sensible rate is never a good idea.   What I needed was an events manager to sort it all out. (Oh, hold on, I graduated in such a role in the midst of all this planning - best put my degree into practice!)  After lots of Googling, phone calls and finally a trip to Chester to see some venues, I opted for a community centre just out of the city and bulk booked a Holiday Inn for the runners and guests, which literally overlooked  the start line.  My Aunt Val designed fabulous invites and off they went in the post.  The response from some;  "Why Chester, that's a long way away" and "Is Chester a personal link" amused me.  Especially when many of these friends and family lived miles away from Kingston upon Hull and I pointed out it was no further from their home to either really! (I won't get into the then further disappointment of those who couldn't come having now made "other plans", expecting me to have something else more local alongside the "sorry can't make it, when you next down this way?" - suffice to say the 40-40-40 trio combination was happening in Chester and Chester only!).  Everything was booked and it just remained to get those 40 runners in place.  I'd now sorted the second of the three 40's by running marathon 39 and my heart was still beating!
Left - after marathon 38 in Cyprus

Below - having completed marathon 39 in Luxembourg


Announcing the 40-40-40 plan at a charity ball in Frome, 2011


With Chris Britton (June 2015) - the first of the team to sign up and enter

In August, with two months to go, I technically had an agreed 40 runners. However, I still needed them to pay up to know they were genuinely onboard.  I also had the impending possibility of injured runners withdrawing, as was a high probability with such a challenge.  Sure enough, getting those last few paid up runners continued to be a battle.  I am told I'm tenacious and I feel that, on this occasion, I needed to be just that.  I was determined to have 40 marathons runners on the start line in Chester, and whilst some of the team had helped get others involved, I needed to keep focused to keep recruiting. As we moved into early September I briefly had 40 paid entries, but almost immediately had my third withdrawal as Anne O'Connell, one of our first time runners, had to accept that her IT band issues were not going to repair themselves in time for the big day.  Anne joined Jo Cavill and Kate Fountain on the withdrawal list.  Jo too had withdrawn due to injuries several months before and Kate had the small matter of having had a baby 10 weeks before race day and, on recommencing training, her body decided it wasn't a goer.  My thanks to them all for being prepared to take on the challenge though.

At 40 days to go, I commenced a countdown on my Lucaskeepsrunning Facebook page of the 40 runners and the charity(s) they were supporting - to help get some sponsorship for them and to promote the whole event alongside introducing them all.  This was done in, what I determined, their experience of marathon running, commencing with those who'd never run one.  In between all this I also managed to meet 5 of the 6 runners who'd joined this harebrained idea without even meeting me - Lua & Zara in London when I was passing through on route to a wedding.  Emma and Jon in Peterborough (planned round a convoluted route home from helping friends move in the Midlands) and Rob and Adam when they ran through East Yorkshire and stayed at mine as part of their Walk for Peace tour of the UK, which they'd built the Chester Marathon into.  Alas, Maciej wasn't in Bristol when I was and we met 15 hours before the marathon started, at the Celebration event.

With two weeks to go to the marathon I finally confirmed 40 runners as well as myself and a 42nd member of the team would run the Metric Marathon.  Jon Sidebotham was due to run his first marathon but, again due to ongoing injuries, was not recommended by his doctor to do quite that far.  However, 16 miles (26.2km's) was doable, so Jon could still be on Team 40-40-40. This was just in time as the T-shirt/vest final order went through - ensuring everyone had the right size, their name (spelt correctly) and charity(s) logo on their top.  Dave Sunman became our final sign up - taking Jon's place as the 40th full marathon runner but had entered the event directly.  October 1st arrived and I had secured the first 40 (40 years of my life if you'd not realised).  We were on board for the trio!  

The 26 charities supported by the Team

Left - Meeting Zara and Lua in London

Below - With Adam and Rob outside my house at 7am on a misty morning in September, the week before the marathon

48 hours to go and an email arrived from our most senior team member.  At 71, Neil Richardson had over ten marathons to his name and had been looking forward to the event.  However, a late injury to a strained tendon led to the disappointing (in Neil's words) situation.  Could we get a replacement this late on?!  A few attempts were made but I had always had a fall back  - me.  I was never one of the 40 as my objective was "with 40 runners". However, with Jon in the metric marathon, we still had Lucas plus 40 runners start and we had 40 marathon runners too.  (As long as they all arrived in Chester!)

On the night before the marathon the Celebration of all things 40 was attended by 40 of the 41 runners, alongside over 60 friends and family.  This was a chance to celebrate 40 years of my life, alongside celebrating the 40 other runners, including what would be Robin Fox's 40th marathon, and mark 40 marathons for me the next day.  Rob Young, the most experienced runner in the room with over 400 marathon's to his name, spoke on behalf of the runners, sharing his remarkable story and bringing my 40 marathons into a reality check!  My Dad, Roger, spoke on behalf of the 40 years of my life, sharing some stories from my childhood.  My parents have always been there supporting everything I have done, not just under "lucaskeepsrunning" but all of those 40 years and it was a great chance to thank them for enabling me to develop as I have and support me in everything I've done - learning from my mistakes and enriched by their love and example.

Celebrating all things 40

Team 40-40-40 - 39 together at the Celebration of all things 40.

From left - Steve Dale, Robin Fox, Nancey Walker, Matt Masters, Chris Knight, Lucas Meagor, Rachel Clarke, Simon Clarke, James Peterson, Russel Lowe, Chris Gibbons, Adam Holland, Rob Young, Linda Hannah, Fiona Holland, Lua Stifani, Emma Goldberg, Paul Evans, Zara Jaffrey, Patsy Hodgson, Edd Lisney, Kerry Tankard, Zoe Dale, Ben Fairburn, Andy Grainger, Sam Allen, Neil Bant, Alex Cleeland, Danny Walker, Jon Sidebotham, John ‘Syd@ Meagor, Mark Dalton, Lindi Day, Dave Sunman, Neil Thompson, Maciej Biernacki, Nick Britton, Lee Scott, Chris Britton Inset top - Wesley Bodman, Inset bottom - Steve Knight

23 rooms at the Holiday Inn were occupied by Team 40-40-40 so there was lots of chat over breakfast as everyone emerged from 6:30am onwards.  All dressed and ready to go we headed for the finish line first to set up our team tent and banner - 10 metres from the finish line. We were the second biggest team at the event, beaten by Blackburn Runners.  However, we had the biggest spread across the event when it came to the final results. We attempted to get all 41 runners together for a team picture, but trying to get 41 people together in between toilet trips, baggage hand it and more was a mission. 29 of us were together when we did the Team 40-40-40 picture, but I managed to get a picture with everyone else pre race apart from Adam Holland, who was in the Elite's preparation area.

As it was to mark my 40th marathon (and birthday) with the 40 team, I tied a 40 balloon to one of my wrist bands to run with.  As I headed into the portaloo about 15 minutes before the start, the race commentator announced "a man has gone into the loo with  helium balloon".  Causing much amusement, I emerged and beckoned him over from his commentry box.  It was an opportunity to share what Team 40-40-40 were about.  I had a brief chat with him and explained who we were and why the balloon before heading to the start with the rest of the team, Jon looking on as the Metric marathon would start at 10am, an hour later. I tried to find as many of the team to wish them well as I headed up the starting field to find Chris Britton, whom I hoped to run with at a similar pace. In the process the balloon knocked several people before I reached him, alongside Mark Dalton, our now most senior runner (at a tender 54).  At 9am the gun went and we were off.  Blast - I'd realised I'd not changed to miles on my garmin and would be doing the maths in kilometres around the route!

Top left - the 40-40-40 tattoo each runner had, thanks to Yourdesign.co.uk  Remaining pictures - Lucas with Team 40-40-40 pre race (Absent is Adam, whom Lucas missed a picture with)

The race starts on Chester Racecourse and the first kilometre was on the Racecourse itself, before heading into Chester City Centre.  Our mass of supporters had placed themselves from the word go and as we headed out we were cheered by many of them along the first few hundred metres, outside the hotel (before they had their breakfast!) and then in the centre and riverside, including a large "Go Team 40-40-40" banner, made by Ros Knight's (Chris's wife) Guides.  A brilliant atmosphere as we headed out of the city, up a short hill and into the countryside.

Mark, Chris and I ran together for around 10km, chatting and maintaining a good, steady target pace.  Mark then moved ahead of Chris and I as we neared/crossed the Welsh border.  I would have been impressed to stay with Mark being he can run a sub 3 hour pace.  As we reached around 10 miles, we passed a large group of the support team, who'd travelled out into the country to cheer us on. They were, it turned out, acclaimed to be the best support on the route (an acclamation made by other runners), and to be fair, were very loud and video evidence backs it up!  It was a good boost as we headed towards half way.  At 12 miles, I dropped behind Chris in need of a loo stop.  I attempted to make ground on Chris but realised it was gonna be very hard work and my energy levels didn't seem to think that was likely!

John ‘Syd’ and Steve Knight going through the centre of Chester

Chris Britton & Lucas coming through mile 10 with Chris Gibbons in the back ground

Around half way, which I went through at 1:40:12, the route went on a loop were by it then came back along the same stretch briefly and we got to see some of the others going the opposite way.  I got to high-five Fiona, cheer at Emma and Robin.  15 miles in and I was feeling shattered.  Sam passed me just after this, guessing I was finding it too hot.  "Nope - just energy zapped" was my reply.  I was quite happy with the temperature, little wind and sunny day. The only slight issue was the wind was directing the balloon a bit as I got slower so I nearly ended up entangled in it!  (and the balloon wasn't why I was slowing either!).  The irony was everyone else had found it a warm day in the end yet I, who normally finds the heat and me don't get on, didn't find it especially hot.

At 16-17 miles we went down through Holt and a brief quick descent and then a nasty climb (not quite living up to the "flat" description the course made.)  My pace was slowing and I was having brief walks every mile, but at around 18 miles just felt I wanted to curl up on the side of the road and go to sleep!  I'd never felt so tired in a marathon.  My legs and body generally felt OK, I just didn't seem to have the energy required to keep them going.   At 21 miles I had another loo stop, at which point Chris Gibbons passed me (unbeknown to me) but it seemed to help as I felt I got going  a bit better from there, also helped by slower runners from the metric marathon being on route so I was passing more people too.  At around 22-23 miles, Edd and Zoë caught me.  I briefly ran with them but not for long.  

Above - the banner from Ros Knight’s Guides

Right - Edd & Zoë  nearing mile 24

Between mile 23 and 24, two of our vibrant support team were in place - Sam and Clare, who gave  lots of encouragement as we went up another of these allegedly nonexistent hills!  The last of the noticeable hills was just before mile 25, where they had race angels to help motivate you.  At mile 25, I passed my Uncle, Derek, who's daughter, Nancey, was running her first marathon.  Into the final mile, as we hit the riverside (the River Dee for fact fans) and followed it to the Racecourse.  Along this section several of the support team were dotted, including Jackie (of cake making fame) and family and Liz and Ann Dunning.  It was the motivation needed.  As I turned onto the racecourse, long past caring about my time but knowing I was safely inside 4 hours, I was greeted by my brother, David, shouting loudly and running alongside me for a hundred metres to encourage me in.  I spotted other family and friends and I sped up to hit the finish line, and collect my 40th Marathon finishers medal.  It may not have been the PB I would have liked on such on occasion (time of 3:50:39), but it had been a brilliant day with such a big team and big crowd and I'd had no end of happy birthday wishes from crowd and runners alike. (Despite it actually not being my birthday). It had also meant thousands of pounds had been raised for 26 deserving charities.

Of course, 40 others also ran in Team 40-40-40.  By the finish we had had the 5th placed runner through to the last runner over the line.  We really had covered the route.  Adam Holland was 5th overall, with a PB of 2:28:29 - a remarkable result given he'd run approximately 1,500 miles to get to Chester in the preceding three weeks.  Chris Knight came in next, smashing 19 minutes off his best time to break 3 hours in 2:56:21.  Next over the line was our Metric Marathon runner, Jon Sidebotham - 2:06:17 for the 26.2 kilometre route - an excellent time against an injury.

Rob Young, also on the back of 1,500 miles in the Walk for Peace, finished in 3:12, around his average pace for the distance, before our "veteran" team member, Mark Dalton in 3:16:53.  Neil Thompson followed him in 3:20:34 - having not had such a good second half and missing out on his target for a good for age time.  Of the nine first timers, Chris Britton led the way - sprinting for the line at some pace as he finished in a brilliant 3:25:22 - well inside his target 3:30 pace. Not far behind him came in our first lady, Sam Allen, in 3:27:42 - slightly faster than her Hull Marathon time three weeks earlier. This showed how much pace I lost in the second half.  

Over the next hour 23 of the team finished.  Chris Gibbons at 3:38:22, despite his lack of training. Edd Lisney came in just 12 second behind him at 3:38:34, with Zoë Dale not far behind in 3:40:59.  This was an excellent performance given she didn't think she'd ever be able to run a marathon again due to back problems. This brought me in as the 11th of the marathon runners (3:50:39), just ahead of Simon Clarke (3:52:52) and Ben Fairburn (3:52:55) who was the first runner I greeted on the finishers side with our medals and goody bags. Neil Bant (3:53:42) just pipped Lee Scott (3:53:44), who was running his first marathon in twelve years on his actual birthday. Lee has had three lots of acupuncture the week leading up to marathon day due to a calf problem on the previous Sunday. 16 years since his one and only other marathon, James Peterson came through in 3:54:35.

They kept on coming in sub 4 hours too - Lindi Day was home in 3:56:09 and our second debutant, Matt Masters in 3:58:20.  Matt was pictured looking annoyed at the clock approaching the finish line as it said over 4 hours and he'd not realised that he'd taken over 2 minutes to start to come in under his target 4 hour time. Fiona Oakes followed Matt, but had an unfortunate incident as she collapsed just 15 metres before the line and the sub 4 hours she's aimed for.  Her friend, Richard, hurtled over the barrier seeing what happened and helped her and up and over the line in 4:01:06. Fiona had only run her first marathon three weeks earlier, having had to withdraw from her original planned inaugural race in April due to a lacerated leg caused by an accident three weeks before the big day. A second visit of the day to the First Aid tent helped her recovery, although it was another day before she started to really feel better - showing how hard she'd pushed herself. (Her first visit was pre race due to cutting her finger when the tent was erected).

Above - Sam & Clare, two of the many fabulous support team

Left - Lucas coming through mile 23-24, balloon still attached

Below left - Adam is the first of Team 40-40-40 over the line in a PB and 5th place - 2:28:29

Below - Chris Knight in the final mile, before breaking 3 hours as our second finisher

Birthday boy, Lee, finishes in 3:53:44

First female debutant in team - Nancey finishing in 4:03:05

Chris Britton is the first Team 40-40-40 debutant to finish in 3:25:22

Above - Jon in the final kilometre of the metric marathon

Right - Rob just before the marathon finish

First lady of the team, Sam Allen finishing in 3:27:42

Our first debutant female was Nancey Walker ( 4:03:05), who'd had the idea of us having 40-40-40 tattoos (temporary ones I would add, although they were still being reported as present a week later!).  Just behind her was Steve Dale (4:05:02) in his first marathon in five years, not far ahead of Andy Grainer (4:05:38).  My eldest brother, John "Syd" Meagor, followed in 4:10:03 - at 49 our oldest debutant.  Sun stroke hit him afterwards, but he'd too done great and thanked Lucas for the experience, but was quickly emphasising it was a one off (words heard from my mouth after my first marathon!).  Dave Sunman followed just after in a PB of 4:12:00, just ahead of the second 40th marathon runner, Robin Fox (4:12:58), who was the most local of the team, living in Flint. Chris Britton's brother Nick, also in his debut marathon, finished in 4:15:56 - having battled a bug in the week leading up to the event.  Emma Goldberg (4:19:52) overcame various injury issues to get round and, just behind her, Russel Lowe had beaten off a virus and two weeks off running to finish in 4:21:28, knowing he'd be lining up at the 2016 London Marathon for another crack at the distance.

The last of the brother pairs, Steve Knight (4:24:27) followed, closely followed by Alex Cleeland (4:24:46), who was ten minutes quicker than he'd been in Hull three weeks earlier. Debutant, Maciej Biernacki, beat the 4:30 barrier with a time of 4:28:28, ahead of another first timer, Rachel Clarke (4:43:12) - having last "raced" in the 2003 Great North Run. Danny Walker (4:43:53) followed, having injured his foot/ankle on route and struggled much of the second half.  The last of the sub 5 hour team was Paul Evans (4:50:25).

Marathons are not about time though, it's about endurance and overcoming barriers. Patsy Hodgson had finally run her first marathon, having considered it for several years, finishing in 5:22:24.  Her husband, Del, had done a brilliant job getting pictures and even had a video put together within 30 minutes of Patsy finishing with some highlights of the day. The youngest of the team, at 20, Wesley Bodman, and last of the first timers, completed in 5:33:34, seconds ahead of Kerry Tankard (5:33:46), who had tweeted his way round the course and had an injury that resulted in him walking most of the last ten miles.  He had battled injury issues in training and tweeted that he'd started (and finished) because of the commitment made to his charity and to the team.  Zara Jaffery (5:56:05) picked up pace for the final two kilometres having stuck with fiancée, Lua Stifani (6:00:26), who had got round the course despite his doctor's advice, and had Zara's Mum run in with him the final 2 kilometres.  

The final runner of Team 40-40-40, and, it turned out, of the whole Marathon, was Linda Hannah, in 6:54:10.  Undeterred by her position, Linda just felt she'd had a tiring week but wasn't going to be stopped in being a finisher as she'd committed to the Team.  Linda epitomised what I had wanted on the day - to have a team of all abilities to join together and support good causes whilst facing the challenge of the marathon.  

Above - Robin finishes his 40th marathon

Top right - Kerry going through the centre of Chester

Right - Lucas’ brother, Dave, cheers Linda at 10 miles

It was evident afterwards how many of the Team had turned up and ran because they didn't want to let the Team down, and I am humbled by their commitment and dedication. All of the runners had a story to tell, but a fabulous bunch of people had come together to celebrate with me and make it a very special occasion.  Many of us gathered for light lunch at a nearby Church Hall afterwards, celebrating the day, nursing aches and pains but being able to revel in the achievements as well as enjoy time with new friends made. For some it will be the start of their own marathon journey, for others it will be a one off and others will continue to aim for a PB and enjoy the pleasure of running.  For me, I've three more marathons entered for 2015 already and have my sights set on the 50th one on 1.10.2017.  From the Facebook chat in the days that followed, I may end up with a team of 50 with me - though 50-42-50 doesn't have the same ring to it!

Thank you to everyone who supported on the day, to the many of you who donated to any of the charities we'd supported and to the 40 runners (and others who couldn't run) for their commitment to making it such a wonderful weekend and memorable day. Thanks to everyone, my harebrained idea of 2011 had happened!

Lucas with Danny after the marathon at the post race gathering

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Left - with James Peterson

Above - Rachel & Simon Clarke

Right - first to greet Lucas at the finish, Ben Fairburn

Below - Lucas with others from the Team afterwards

Left - with Maciej Biernacki after his first marathon

Right - Paul Evans, who ran Chester for his 50th birthday two year’s earlier

Neil Thompson & Lindi Day, two of the Fitmums members in the Team

Fiona Oakes, back smiling after her second marathon in three weeks.

Zara Jaffrey & Lua Stifani

Chris Gibbons

Wesley Bodman & Patsy Hodgson, both first timers

Fellow 40 year old, Neil Bant

Sam Allen and Mark Dalton - two of the erly finishers

Dave Sunman after his PB

Left - John ‘Syd’ and on Lucas right, Matt Masters - both first time marathon runners.

Right - Emma Goldberg having fought through injuries

Above - Nick & Chris Britton -both marking their first triumph over the distance

Right - with Russel Lowe

Below right - Alex Cleeland and Lucas

Lee Scott, who ran on his birthday, Andy Grainger and Steve Dale

See Race Video’s on Lucaskeepsrunning YouTube channel and Facebook page (Thanks to Paul Hayes & Del Hodgson)