After the tragic events of Boston, Richard Whitehead readily admits he had second thoughts about this weekend’s London Marathon.
Not about his own safety but that of his 12-week-old daughter Zarah and fiancée Valerie, who will be cheering him on from the sidelines. But the family have decided to travel down from their Nottingham home, with Whitehead confident the race will pass without a hitch.
“I’ve never had second thoughts about me running but I did initially about my family, with them obviously planning to be near the finishing line,” he says. “What happened in Boston makes you think.
“The global focus on London will now be massive but I’m sure there won’t be any issues at all. It’s a magical event and it makes you realise what’s important in life. What happened in Boston won’t deter me and I hope it doesn’t deter runners and spectators in London. The power of sport is a powerful tool, and this marathon will be more powerful than ever.”
Whitehead was out on a tapering jog as he cut back his training before hitting the streets of London when news from Boston first broke.
“My fiancée told me when I got back,” he said. “My first reaction was that I had friends running out there, including one of the guys that paced me for one of my marathons. I’m just grateful for social media as, within 10 or 15 minutes, I knew everyone out there I knew at least was safe.”
Whitehead is the first leg amputee in history to run under three hours for a marathon; he holds a world’s best of 2hr 42min 52sec, enough to put him in the top 400 able-bodied athletes at most marathons. This time around the 36-year-old’s ambitions are far less lofty, which he blames on London 2012.
Following the news that his T42 classification would not be eligible for the marathon at the Paralympics, he instead switched to the 200m. He bulked up from 59kg to 80kg to give him the required power to take on the world’s best sprinters and duly blitzed his way to gold.
Having maintained that weight with a joint plan for track action this season – the IPC World Championships and the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games – even getting near to the three-hour mark tomorrow would be a great achievement.
But Whitehead, who is trained by Paula Radcliffe’s former training partner Liz Yelling, is not unused to exceeding expectations. Despite being a congenital double amputee, he is a former swimmer, gymnast and cricketer and even represented Britain in ice sledge hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
His most ambitious project lies in store this summer, when he plans to run from John O’Groats to Land’s End, a roughly 1,000-mile route involving the equivalent of about 38 marathons with just two or three days’ break during the entire epic trip. “This will be my biggest challenge,” he said somewhat understatedly, “and not just physically but mentally as well.”
Whitehead was inspired to take up sport in the first place by Terry Fox, an amputee and cancer sufferer who attempted to run the breadth of Canada before his untimely death at the age of 22, and the idea of a run the length of Britain has been in the offing for about five years.
“Because of 2012 and the Games I wanted to use that as a platform to do what I wanted in sport,” Whitehead said. “I wanted to do something incredible or crazy or whatever you want to call it, and this is it. I sometimes smile to myself about the idea of running 1,000 miles.”