When I first met Roy Ball about five years ago I did not have an inkling of how similar our circumstances were. From time to time when I passed him as I was going for a run we would exchange a few pleasantries and we would go our own separate ways, he with is wife and daughter, I on my way to the canal towpath for an endurance run to Wolverhampton or Walsall, my favourite routes.
This coming and going went on over the years until one day last year Roy approached me as I was walking past his house and asked me how long my runs were. I told him that I did several 10 milers weekdays and 20 mile runs at the weekends. I was dumbfounded by his next request “How would you like to run the London Marathon?”
At first I though he was having me on as he had always seemed to be a jocular type. When it finally dawned on me he was serious I did not need to be asked again. He explained his situation; he had been running the line in a football match in which his son was a participant when Andrew suddenly collapsed on the pitch and died aged 16. It was a tragedy which returned to haunt him on a regular basis since it happened 20 years ago. I could understand and empathise fully with Roy as I had lost my own son, Sean, 10 years ago although to an entirely different set of circumstances. He was aged 23.
Roy explained the situation, would I be prepared to run for ‘CRY’ if he took care of the organisational side of things. I had no hesitation in accepting the offer as I had never been accepted for the London Marathon despite numerous annual attempts at gaining entry. All I ever got was rejection slips. It was like a dream come true, all I had to do was run injury free for several months and I would get my wish.
The months following were nerve wracking as every time I felt a twinge it took on monumental proportions, however as the big day got nearer I realised that all the twenty plus mile runs were worthwhile. I had not run a marathon since 1989; consequently I had to up my weekly mileage but here I was on April 22nd lining up in Greenwich park with 30,000 others. I thought of Roy and his family and the tragic circumstances which had brought me this far and my determination to finish in a good time was confirmed in my own mind.
The opening miles were slow and ponderous, as there was so much bunching due to the volume of the runners taking part. I marvelled at the wonderful support provided by spectators lining the route and the musical accompaniment being afforded us by various bands – Jazz, Military, and otherwise. By the time I had reached the Isle of Dogs I had passed Steve Redgrave who was obviously toiling to adapt to a new discipline, endurance running. There was hardly a vestige of breeze, a wintry sun beat down and the course was as flat as could be; so flat I was expecting to see Windmills!
At 21 miles I was beginning to tire due to lack of sleep the night before but the milling crowds reinforced my determination to keep plodding on. The cobbles after Tower Bridge did not help my knee problems one little bit but we were all in the same boat so onward we all stumbled towards the eagerly awaited finish.
On Birdcage Walk, 800 metres from the finish I could not distinguish Roy’s voice from the rest of the spectators, nor could I see anything beyond the right hand bend leading to the finishing line but Roy assures me he was shouting me on but I looked so focused on the finish line that he knew I had not heard him.
I finished strongly picked up my Medal, goody bag and my personal belongings and strode towards the repatriation area to meet up with Roy and his friend Sheila. Ten to fifteen minutes later we were reunited and on our way homewards. Finally back in rainy old Birmingham, Roy dropped me off at my home. I thanked him warmly for everything and he drove off to his own home. I thought again of the terrible sequence of events which brought so much co-operation between Roy and I and the shared experiences that came out of it all. It was almost as if we were destined to meet that day last year. I think we have helped each other to come to terms with our respective losses.
Marathon runner no. 30357
John Herbert (John Hoireabard) aged 58 official finishing time 4 hours 34 minutes