Marathon Man Goes The Extra Mile

Posted on: 08 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

There’s only 24 left who ran in the first London Marathon 27 years ago, and Cardiff’s Jeffery Aston is one of them. As he prepares for his 27th race, he finds time to talk to Michael Wale.

When the London Marathon started 29 years ago with the late, great, Chris Brasher in charge, there were only 7,000 entries and of those 6,500 finished.  But it was an event that gave birth to the great British running boom and the annual event on the streets of London, which is as important to the spectators as it is to the competitors. This year there were 100,000 entries, out of which 40,000 were chosen, but then the organizers build in a one in five not starting figure due to injury and other reasons.

This year there are only 24 runners left in the exclusive group of athletes who have competed in every single London marathon since it began.  Among them is Cardiff’s Jeff Aston, now 61-years-old, who tells me that he only began his marathon career because his local squash court got flooded.

“I had played soccer before and then squash but when the court got flooded and we could not play there anymore I thought I better start another sport, and took up running,” he explains.

Jeff Aston reaching the finishing line in 1999He remained a keen competitor, running the marathon no less than fifteen times under the magic three hours. It is an incredible record for a club runner, and he recalls that his best time came in 1983 when he completed the near 27 mile course in two hours and a half.

“If I had completed the course in that time today I would have been looking at a top 40th to 50th place. In fact I finished 285th. This was because the quality among club runners was higher in those days.  Now there are far more marathons and so the top club runners can take part all over the place.”

Jeff runs for Cardiff’s Les Croupiers Club, which was sponsored by the owner of a local casino. The day before the marathon, two coaches will leave Cardiff containing the city's runners and their supporters.

“Everyone will have come from South Wales.  This has happened for many years now because the spectators are as important as the runners, because they get just as much enjoyment out of it," Jeff says.

"If you are fit as a spectator you can watch the race from two or three places. For example, you can be at the mass start and then cut down the half mile to the Cutty Sark to see the whole field come around there. It takes the runners six miles to get to the same place because they take a longer route. Then you can get on public transport and go to the Tower of London, to see the whole field pass by there. Then as the race goes down to the East End you could work your way towards the finish.”

The two coach loads from Cardiff reach London at lunchtime on Saturday, when the runners register and get their numbers. That evening they will not be at a West End show but bulking up on pasta or pizza, or both!  Then they go to bed early, ready to rise at 6am, when some of them will have breakfast.  Jeff tends to have a couple of slices of toast and a cup of tea, before the buses leave to take them all to the start around Blackheath.

He reckons that 30 to 40 members of Les Croupiers will be taking part, but they will not see each other during the race. Afterwards comes the hardest bit when you have to find the truck with your clothes in, so you can put them on beside the roadside before meeting the whole club always meet in The Old Shades pub in Whitehall.

"Even though I aim to do it in three and half hours this year, I would say that I am slowing down over the years.  We will wait in The Old Shades to meet everyone, right up to those who will take five hours. Then we tend to have a good curry that night, because you cannot have that when you are in training. I have run long distance since December, increasing that distance week by week from  eight to ten miles and then up to 20. Before that I will have done plenty of 10ks. In fact I am in training all the time, but for the marathon I just use the last few weeks to do the distance.”

On Monday Jeff has started a new tradition of visiting some of the cultural sites that he has run by the day before. 

50connect wish Jeff and everyone else running the London Marathon the best of luck, and we look forward to cheering you on at the finishing line.

Interview: Michael Wale


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