As one of the select few who have completed the London Marathon every year since it’s inception, perhaps no one is more qualified to talk about perseverance than Steve Wehrle. A 67 year-old Paper Manager from Orpington, Kent, Steve originally began running in 1978 and has since amassed an incredible 30,000 miles. Amongst his impressive list of achievements are the successful completion of 50 Marathons [including the New York and Boston events], Beachy Head [five times] and numerous half-marathons in various countries throughout Europe. Steve kindly gave us the time to share his experiences and offered his take on the subject of perseverance.
How difficult was it to train for your first marathon in 1981?
I decided to run it after reading a newspaper article, trained mostly on my own and my longest run was only about seventeen miles.
Did you have any idea in 1981 that you'd go on to run a marathon every year?
I never intended to do more but a week after the first one I wondered if I could better my time.
What’s it like running the same Marathon every year over four decades? What has changed?
Size more than anything. There were 6000 at the first one and 40,000 today. Also the whole of the Isle of Dogs loop is very different, it was empty and desolate but now that it’s been rebuilt there are crowds everywhere.
Did the training ever get easier once you knew what to expect each time?
At my fittest, between 1990 and 1992, it all seemed to flow well.
All of that mileage must have taken some toll on your joints, have you ever experienced any injuries or problems as a result of your arduous training?
In 2003 I got a bad bout of sciatica which made running difficult. I managed to jog the first few miles then walked most of the rest in six-and-a-half hours. I also had a knee arthroscopy to clear out the debris!
How did you over-come those set-backs?
The sciatic problem went away eventually. An operation sorted out the knee problem.
You've stated before that "there are no short-cuts" in training for a marathon and that you must "do the mileage". So what keeps you racking up the mileage? Are you driven by a sense of achievement or a fear of failure?
There are no short-cuts for running a proper marathon, one must achieve fifty to seventy miles a week before being able to do justice to the event. These days I don’t achieve this mileage but do what I can given the slowing with age!
During the marathons themselves, tell us what thoughts run through your mind to keep you going as you reach certain difficult stages of the race. Do you break the race into smaller distances or is there another approach you like to use?
Some years I’ve been totally focussed on the event, some I’ve been totally taking-in what was going on around me. When you get to eighteen, twenty miles, sometimes it’s easier to then mentally tick-off each mile as you go.
Have you got a favourite or memorable year or years? And why?
Yes, 1990 when I finally broke the three hour barrier! With just Westminster Bridge to navigate, the announcer was saying ’Forty-five seconds to break three hours’.
I did it by one second! The fastest and easiest race I ever did at London.
What’s the course like? What difference does it make knowing the route as well as you do?
There are no hills, it’s slightly down early-on and fast if you are at the front. Even knowing the route doesn’t help that much, it’s still twenty-six miles to navigate.
How do you keep your training interesting?
I run most of my runs with friends from Orpington Road Runners, it’s a lot easier with other people than alone.
How would you define 'true grit' in a runner?
Someone able to keep going when it would be easy to give in. I have had a few bad ones where you have to take to yourself into keeping going.
What characteristics would you say make-up those runners who run marathons year after year, how are they different to the average person?
They’re dedicated, single-minded and generally reasonably successful in life.
Can perseverance be learnt or is it part of a person's character?
Yes it can but many are probably born with it.
How much of running a marathon would you say is athletic ability and how much is dogged-determination?
Athletic ability for the fast guys and determination for the majority.
How does the atmosphere at a big event like the London Marathon affect your performance?
It can really help unless you get really tired, then it can become a bit much towards the end.
How do other Marathons that you’ve run compare to London?
London is the biggest! I also did New York in 1990 and Boston in 1996. New York really makes a week of it with runs the previous week and lots going on. These days my favourite is “Beachy Head” which is an off-road event taking-in The Seven Sisters at the end of it.
To find out more about Steve’s achievements and the select few who have successfully completed every London Marathon
to date, visit www.everpresent.org.uk