London Marathon: Two decades on, Spedding can't believe he is still the speediest

So where does a retired master of the marathon go, after crossing the final finishing line and hanging up his shoes? To Wallsend, naturally.

So where does a retired master of the marathon go, after crossing the final finishing line and hanging up his shoes? To Wallsend, naturally. Charlie Spedding runs a pharmacy there, in the Tyneside town at the end of the wall that Hadrian's Roman legions built across the far north of England. Not that the Gateshead Harrier ever encountered the marathon foot-soldier's "wall", the point at which the body runs out of glycogen and starts to feel, and act, like one of those toy bunnies with its batteries fully drained.

Spedding strode to victory in the London Marathon in 1984, won a bronze medal in the Olympic marathon in Los Angeles later the same year, and in the London race of 1985 set an English record as runner-up to the Welshman Steve Jones. The record he set that day, 2hr 8min 33sec, still stands 20 years later.

Jones, the British record-holder, has settled in the United States, so Spedding - as well as being the fastest Englishman of all time - can claim to be the fastest marathon man resident in Britain, too. He also happens to be the last British winner of a marathon medal in a global championship - the Olympic Games or the World Championships. He is the only Briton to have done so, in fact, since Basil Heatley took Olympic silver behind Abebe Bikila in Tokyo in 1964.

Now 52, and back in London to work as a summariser for BBC Radio Five Live on the 2005 Flora London Marathon today, the softly spoken, affably self-effacing Spedding is more bemused and saddened about his lasting place in the record books than he is proud of it.

"I can't believe that the English record still stands," he said, before joining fellow London Marathon winners at a celebratory reunion ahead of the 25th running of the race. "I find it amazing that there are very few people even getting near to it. The marathon itself has moved on a long way - Steve Jones and myself ran 2hr 8min that day, and people are now running 2hr 4min - and yet British runners aren't running as fast as we did 20 years ago. I really do find that amazing. There are a variety of reasons for it. If you wanted to go into what's wrong with British distance-running, you could fill a whole paper."

One crucial factor is the absence of the kind of thriving distance-running group that was central to Spedding's long graduation from runner-up in the English Schools' 1500 metres as a 19-year-old to debutant marathon winner in Houston at the age of 31. His training partners in a stable of thoroughbreds at Gateshead Harriers included Brendan Foster, the Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist who will be behind the BBC television mike on marathon duty today, and Lindsay Dunn, who became Spedding's trusted adviser during a running career in which he was ostensibly self-coached.

It took 11 years of patient graft, most of it in the company of the Gateshead group, for Spedding to break through at world level, initially as a 10,000m track runner, finishing fourth in the Commonwealth Games in 1982. It might have been very different, though.

Back in 1976, when he was on the international fringes as a 5,000m man, Spedding had a frighteningly close brush with death. In hospital for a routine Achilles tendon operation, he suffered an allergic reaction to drugs given to him in the preparatory anaesthetising process and went into anaphylactic shock. He awoke on the operating table to find his face swollen, his eyes closed shut, and to hear a room full of deeply concerned medical staff.

"I heard someone come rushing in saying, 'What have you given him?' and this other person reeling off a list of medicine," he said, smiling at the memory now. "I was just a couple of years out of my pharmacy degree and I thought, 'Oh, that's the standard procedure for anaphylactic shock'.

"I knew that if you had a fully blown anaphylactic shock you would die, but instead of panicking I actually felt better, because, having woken up and not known what was going on, I worked out what was happening. Fortunately, the anaesthetist spotted what was happening to me quickly enough. He came to see me a few days later and said, 'If I hadn't noticed for another 30 seconds, 45 seconds, it might have been too late'. So, yeah, I nearly died, but I didn't. I was fine when I recovered."

Spedding recovered from another Achilles operation that went wrong and almost killed his running career to finish narrowly out of the medals in sixth place at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. It was the last marathon he completed.

These days he runs two or three times a week, but is too busy with family life, living with his wife and three children on the outskirts of Newcastle, and with his pharmacy in Wallsend, to be more actively involved in athletics. It is a pity for the sport, because there are few shrewder cookies in the distance-running world than Spedding - as Five Live's audience will discover today.

The London men's winner of 1984 is confident that Paula Radcliffe will emerge as a British winner in the women's race of 2005, though he is not so sure about the impact of a third marathon in eight months upon the long-term future of the world record-holder. "You can only go to the well so many times, and running the marathon really is going to the well," Spedding pondered. "Even if you are the best in the world, it takes an awful lot out of you. And I just worry that running another one now is maybe just diminishing Paula's chances of making sure she wins gold in a major championship."

Spedding's old rival, Steve Jones, held the men's world record but never won a major championship medal in the marathon. He was, however, wise enough to take Spedding's advice four miles from the finish of that memorable 1985 race in London. "We were hammering away at the front," Spedding reflected, "and right out of the blue Steve turned to me and said, 'Charlie, how do you go to the toilet when you're running?' I was amazed, but after a couple of seconds I said, 'Well, I think you'll have to stop, Steve'."

The advice was given tongue in cheek, but Jones chose to follow it, stopping at the side of the road to drop his load, as it were, before catching Spedding and surging to victory. "I didn't shake hands with him at the finish, but that wasn't because he had beaten me," Spedding confessed, recalling the not-so-sweet smell of British men's success in the good old days of the London Marathon.

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss