Mike Rowbottom: Wayward cyclists, savage dogs, flashers and special brew – it's all in a day's work for Britain's marathon hopefuls

Friday, 20 April 2012
Mike Rowbottom_17-11-11Given the fact that she is Paula Radcliffe's big mate, you would have thought Liz Yelling would be forewarned and fore-armed on the subject of bicycles on the eve of a marathon.

Yelling, who will compete in Sunday's Virgin London Marathon with the goal of earning a third consecutive Olympic appearance as the third British representative behind the already-selected Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi, had a Radcliffe-like blip in her preparations last month. Involving a bicycle, obviously.

But first, a recap for our younger readers.

On the eve of her defence of the London Marathon title in 2003, Radcliffe told a faintly appalled media gathering that she had almost been put out of contention by an incident that had taken place while she was training in New Mexico.

Having run for 22 miles, she encountered a young girl on her bike who was cycling ahead of her parents. As Radcliffe skirted round her the girl looked backwards to her mother and father, catching the back of the illustrious runner's foot.

"I fell on the concrete and cut both knees quite badly, as well as dislocating my jaw," said Radcliffe. "She didn't come off her bike, though she was crying because I was covered in blood."

It was not the first bicycle-related calamity to have been suffered by Radcliffe. A year earlier, preparing for her London Marathon debut, she was training in Ireland with the assistance of Marian Sutton, twice a winner of the Chicago Marathon.

While Radcliffe ploughed through the miles, Sutton rode behind her on a bike, handing her water at appropriate moments. All went well until Sutton actually rode up her on a bike, leaving tyre-marks all the way up the back of her long white sock.

Paula Radcliffe_19-04-12
So when Yelling encountered a bicycle slung across her path during a training run in Boulder, Colorado you would have hoped a few warning bells might have gone off in her head.

It appears not.

Skirting around the obstacle – bad karma, Liz – Yelling suddenly found herself confronted by two very cross ladies carrying out their task as designated "wildlife officers" – effectively park rangers. One of whom grabbed hold of the 37-year-old double Olympian without ceremony, bringing her forward motion to a halt so sudden that she jarred her knee and was forced to take a couple of days off.

Apparently there was some "controlled burning" of foliage going on further up the trail. Looking on the bright side, then, it might have been a lot worse for Yelling.

There was a sympathetic echo from one of Yelling's rivals for the third London 2012 spot, Claire Hallissey. The 29-year-old Bristol runner, who is based in the United States near Washington, recalled her own recent scrape on a training run in the form of an encounter with a fierce and unfriendly dog.

"I narrowly risked getting a nasty bite," she recalled. "I was left unscathed, but the dog ruined one of my favourite pairs of running shorts."

Benedict Whitby_19-04-12
Benedict Whitby, a City of London policeman who will be aiming to join the pre-selected Scott Overall in Britain's men's marathon team at London 2012, recalled his own non-standard training run in preparation for Sunday's big race.

Having set out for an early morning run in a wooded area near Tooting, Whitby became aware of a male in a state of undress – no dress, in fact. What to do? Was he, at that moment, policeman or running man?

Well, it seemed he was running man. "I wasn't sure whether to tackle him and tell him 'You can't do that', or whether to flag someone down and call the Metropolitan Police to say that there was someone totally naked in the woods. In the end, I flagged someone down.

"I found it quite surprising that someone would be doing that at 6.30 in the morning..."

Yes. You wonder if they had got up early, or were maybe just getting in very late from the night before...

Louise Damen_19-04-12
For Louise Damen (pictured), who will be vying with Yelling and Hallissey on Sunday, recent training runs in Winchester have taken on a livelier feel. "As the London Marathon has got closer, my local press have been doing a few more articles about me," she said. "There are a group of tramps where I run who regularly gather round a bench drinking Special Brew. Now they know my name, and they shout out to me when I run past. It gives me a little boost every time."

Who knows, perhaps the Special Brew boost will make all the difference to Damen. As for Radcliffe, her close encounter with a teenage cyclist may have left her with a permanent scar on her right knee, but it didn't impact noticeably on her subsequent performance. She defended her London title in 2 hours 15min 25sec, a world record which is still almost three minutes faster than any other woman has managed.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames. Rowbottom's Twitter feed can be accessed here.
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