Bungay Festival of Running - Neils Marathon win in 89' and Half Marathon in 86
With this weekend’s Bungay Festival of Running, it most certainly takes me back to when I made my return to competitive racing in 1982 after what had been an eight year layoff. However, for my first race back after all those years, it just so happened that I had to travel all the way to the West Midlands for what was the first Wolverhampton Marathon. So where does the Bungay Marathon come into all of this? Well it was during the weeks and months of training for Wolverhampton when I just happened to read in the EDP that there was going to be a marathon in Bungay around the same time. My initial thoughts turned to binning the big race in the Midlands for this one much nearer to home, but at the same time my mind was also geared to starting what I had finished. Anyway, I did indeed line up at Wolverhampton with just the aim of getting round like many others and then settle back into non competitive life again. At the time, I had only ever ran beyond 20 miles once which ended in stress fractures, so for this one I did not dare train beyond 16 miles. The day itself went really well until 22 miles when I really did hit the wall, but at the same time still managed to run just over 2 hours 30 mins which was regarded as a decent time especially with it being my very first and after such a long break from running. Nevertheless, even with the pain of those last four miles, that was it as far as I was concerned. I had done what I set out to do which meant no more marathons for me! However, very soon after that, I picked up the EDP and there it was a full report on the very first Bungay marathon. The race had been won by a local legend Vic Holman from Thetford AC in just over 2 hours 30 mins with his club mate Dave Goodwin just behind him. I was totally engrossed reading the detailed report thinking that I may have been able to get close to those guys and with a bit more training behind me, maybe I could even win this race one day. The thought of competitive retirement was now well and truly gone and a quick call to another local running legend Mike Wilkinson soon had me getting the race shoes out again and the Bungay Marathon (along with others) was now on my radar and “a to do list” so to speak.
To say the next few years of my life were filled with running is an understatement although I didn’t actually get to Bungay until 1986 and even then it was to take part in the Half Marathon as part of my preparations for what I was hoping was going to be a 2:17 clocking in The London Marathon a couple of weeks later. I went into the race off 130 miles that week having also recently won the Bury St Edmunds 20 miler and Rutland Water 17 which were pretty tough races and I was thinking just how tired I was feeling. I looked around at the other runners which included one of my good friends and rival and thought if you can’t beat me today then you never will. I took off from the gun and despite feeling pretty heavy legged, I did win it albeit in a time (68 mins). This was at least two minutes slower than what I wanted to run, which I put down to my tiredness and I think it is fair to say the course, which is not only undulating but pretty open and exposed too. As for London….not a good day finishing in 2:21 which was a blow having run 2:20 in that race the year before and 2:19 in Berlin. As it happens I did indeed run 2:17 a few months later which I do actually put down to all the hard work completed earlier in the year and of course having ran at Bungay too.
1986 - Neil Featherby leads the pack
Whilst the next few years were spent racing all over the place, I finally made it to Bungay for the full marathon albeit seven years after the first. It was now 1989 for which I was thinking if I don’t do this soon, it is not going to happen. I had just run in the Malta marathon finishing 3rd and won the Wymondham 20, but most importantly I had also now started work in the sports trade for which my then boss asked me to take the shop along to the race. “Not a problem” I said “and I might as well now enter the full marathon if you don’t mind working the standing while I am running”. Back then, both races started together i.e. the Half and the Full which was two laps instead of one. I wasn’t too sure of my race fitness having eased off after the races earlier in the year for which I just settled into a leading group of what I knew were half marathon runners. In the group were a number of friends from local clubs who I was chatting a way with until 7 miles when a runner from Nottingham took off. His team mate was also in the group and said he’s away for another win. “Really, who is he”? I said. “He wins lots of races” came the reply. I looked around and said to the Norfolk contingent, “are you going to let him go”, but no one answered, so I went after him and caught him up staring at him as I did so before saying “what time are you looking for today” only for him to reply “about 70 minutes”. I already knew he was doing the Half, but said “oh right, I thought you were doing the full as that is what I am doing” and then put another burst in. Looking back that was pretty arrogant, but it blew his mind and he completely blew up and finished 7th allowing the local lads to make their way to the front. Nevertheless, there was perhaps a deserved payback for my earlier arrogance and whilst I did actually complete the first lap ahead of all the half marathon runners in just over 70 mins to the delight of my new boss, I now had to do a second lap all on my own and it really was a chore. Out front on my own going up and down the hills with a fairly stiff breeze head on as I made my way round the second lap. I just shut off and decided to run this second lap and complete the miles without any pressure. I did look behind a few times, but there was no one in sight and eventually finished the race in 1st place in just a few seconds over 2:30 and as it happens in front of the Anglia TV cameras who had come out to film the event. Ironically, my finishing time was about the same as what the first ever Bungay marathon was won in which at the time had grabbed so much of my attention and I had now ticked one of my marathon boxes off in completing such a well organised race.
1989 - Neil crosses the finish line
The winners cup
Since the 1980’s I have seen several running booms come and go whereby many UK marathons have disappeared. However, Bungay has never faulted apart from one year when there was a foot and mouth outbreak. The Bungay Marathon or I should say The Bungay Festival of Running is now very firmly established as part of the local and even UK Race calendar. Hats off and a huge well done to Bungay Black Dog Running Club and all the very best to them and all runners taking part this coming weekend.