“What lap are you on?” he asked.
“Same one as you, mate,” I replied.
50 miles into the National 100km championships of 1994 in Greenwich Park, I had drawn level with Rob Littlewood, and simultaneously we had realised, with so many pre-race favourites dropping out in the hot conditions, there was a bronze medal up for grabs.
Rob, George Stoakes and I had but yards between us with about 10 miles to go, when George went off for a massage, just as I felt that Rob had started to have a bad patch. George’s action made no sense to me at all, with a medal on the line – all I can assume is that the pressure of a three-way fight for that bronze was too great and his mind convinced him that he needed that rub-down.
I made a big effort and pulled away from Rob – 100 yards, 150, 200. Each mile+ lap of the course included 400 metres on the track and, a bit later, when I exited the arena as Rob was entering it with about 4 miles to go, I felt I must have that medal won.
Then the hamstring cramps struck.
I had to ease back a touch, but constantly monitored the gap to Rob, which actually grew slightly. I finished some 40 minutes behind second place but overjoyed to have taken half an hour off my PB and secured a national medal.
The icing on the cake was the award of a drugs test! I had run 62 miles on a hot day, so the man from the anti-doping agency, with the large bottle of water and the test tube, had to follow me around for quite a while before I could ‘perform’.
I drove back to Basingstoke round the M25, stopping at South Mimms for a toilet break – over-rehydration by this point! – and took several minutes to shuffle to the facilities.
I was delighted not only because of the unexpected medal, but also because, when the chips were down and a medal was at stake, I managed to summon the determination and focus to grasp the opportunity.
A couple of months later, I ran the Humberside 24 hours, intending to post a performance that would get me noticed by the GB selectors. I had run 134 miles in 1987 and needed something like that again to catch their eye. Paul Bream was prerace favourite and led for over 100 miles.
Then he encountered problems of some kind and retired to a sleeping bag in his tent. Lying second by now, I was hoping he would not reappear and so, to convince him of the pointlessness of such an action, I made sure that I ran, not walked, past his tent over the next several laps.
I don’t know whether those dirty, underhand tactics worked, but he did not re-emerge, and soon I was in the lead.
Now, towards the end of a 24-hour race, as you can imagine, it gets pretty hard.
With 25 minutes to go, I was 18 miles in the lead, walking round the track very slowly, and about to miss my PB by a mile or so.
“Come on, Steve – you can do this.”
It was my wife. Yes, she was right – I could. If I could just pour everything I had left into the last 25 minutes, then a PB, as well as a win, would be mine. From somewhere, I started running 8-minute miles, maniacally circling the track as the minutes ticked by.
I beat my PB by about a mile.
And it was these two performances, more than any others, that laid the foundations for my joining the GB Ultra Squad in 1995, and eventually winning that coveted national vest in 1996.
And it all seems like a very, very long time ago!!