A Knight’s Tale (85: I Was Stitched Up)

Runners in the London Marathon must run down The Mall, around the corner facing Buckingham Palace, and along Birdcage Walk to the finish, just out of sight, on Westminster Bridge. 

Crossing St James’s Park’s Blue Bridge into Birdcage Walk in September 2012, I remembered my nephew, Peter Darby-Knight, bravely struggling to walk to the finish, having injured his knee, many years after my own London runs.  I had also watched my granddaughter Emily, on two occasions, representing Croydon in the mini-marathon which takes place on the morning of the major event. 

A flock of feral pigeons being fed by tourists reminded me of the mass start to the marathon in Greenwich.  It takes ten minutes walking to reach the line, and quite a bit longer to find room to get into your stride.  On one occasion I was tripped by a man who tried to pass me in this melee.  I ran the race with blood trickling from my grazed knee.  He also fell.  I didn’t help him up.

In the first London race in 1981, Michael and I had watched the two leading men finish hand-in-hand as they crossed the line.  Then, the taking part was all.  Like the Olympics, that spirit has evaporated.  Winning is all.

My son, who the following year would be eighteen, and therefore eligible to run, suggested we do it together.  Taking up the idea in earnest, I trained for it.  Thinking that, as a rugby-playing fast bowler, I was fit enough, my first session was a five mile run from Croyon College to our home in Furzedown.  When I’d finished I could barely walk.  I tottered stiffly down to the box at the bottom of Gracedale Road to post a letter.  As I turned the corner on my return, who should be striding down the road but John Bussell.  John was a neighbour who had said I was completely mad to contemplate the venture.  Quick as a flash, I straightened up, denied my pain, and lengthened my step, to greet him.

Michael had more sense, so I ran the race alone.  Despite the strenuous competition at the elite level, there are still many thousands of people for whom just taking part is a magnificent experience.  I was fortunate enough to participate three times.  Then, the Canary Wharf business complex was a heap of rubble.  We wondered what was going to be built.  The elation of running this race with the streets all lined with row upon row of cheering spectators can only be imagined by non-participants.  Jazz bands are playing, and the world is watching on television.  If you are thinking of trying it, do not accept one of the many pints of beer which will be proffered outside the pubs alongside.  Rather, enjoy the hoses which may be played on you in hot weather.

Coming along The Embankment you will have your first sight of Big Ben.  Your heart may sink when you realise you still have four more miles to go.  Do not be tempted, as many are, to walk along the underpass where you cannot be seen.  If you do, you are unlikely to start running again.

In 1982, Matthew and Becky ran along the footpath beside me towards the finish.  That would not be possible now.

On that day in September 30 years later, entering the park opposite Buckingham Palace, a jogger, attempting to leap the low railings which form a border, tripped and went sprawling.  Fortunately on the grass.  Some years ago, en route to Victoria where I was to board a train to visit Wolf and Luci in Dulwich, I did something similar.  Intending to run there from Harrow Road, in the darkness, off Edgware Road, I tripped on a chain closing off a church car park. I had thought I was still on the footpath.  Back-pack in harness, my feet still attached to the chain, I came a right cropper.  My hands firmly on the tarmac, I was unable to prevent myself from pivoting, head first onto the unyielding surface.  The priest took me in, administered first aid, and called an ambulance; and Wolf and Luci visited me instead.  In hospital, where I was being stitched up.  I bear the scar to this day.  Our meal was a little late that night.

Towards the end of 1983, Sam participated in a mini marathon organised by his nursery school in South West London’s Furzedown.

Becky, Louisa, Jessica 10.83

Even when supported by Becky and Jessica, Louisa didn’t think much of the idea of joining in.


  1. Nice piece of history. You could probably divide your autobiography up into sections like “The Bees”, “The Fall” and “The New Knees” as you steadily work your way through a catalogue of misfortune. 🙂

  2. Interesting. Running a marathon takes dedication. The most I ran at one time was ten miles. My legs were jelly after. My event in school was the two mile race. I was not the best or the worst. But I kept breaking my personal best through the five years of school I could do that event.

  3. Thank you for this history. Quite a tumble you took. I suppose it’s fortunate you weren’t more badly injured. It’s also too bad that just the spirit of participating no longer exists for many people. I’ve never been a runner, but I have friends who have run marathons.
    I love the photo of Sam in his mini marathon. You can feel his delight and enthusiasm!

  4. Commercial interests have changed the face of mass running events such as the London Marathon and, in South Africa, the Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg (about 55 miles up hill or downhill, depending on the route). When my son ran his first Comrades, he and his friend picked up a runner in his sixties who was battling to make the last stretch to the finish line in a race (they were to discover later) that would earn him his permanent number. Between them they supported this man even though it might have meant the end of their own dreams to finish in the required time. Watching them on television, my daughter and I really screamed and yelled encouragement (as if!) and bust into tears of joy when they all crossed the line in good time. Such assistance is no longer allowed – it is awful.

  5. Derrick, I ran I the Army. That was because I had to and a drill sergeant was on our tails. How are the knees today? And problems from running? Good job, though. That takes discipline. ?

  6. What a great memory and adventure! So glad you were not hurt worse. That kind of fall couldn’t have been so bad. 🙁
    Oh, love seeing Sam and the little runners! 🙂 Look at Sam’s enthusiasm and joy! 🙂 Ha, on Louisa not seeing what that running fuss was all about! 😉 😀
    My kids have all participated in 5K and 10K runs…and one kiddo has done a marathon. He and his wife still run for fun and exercise.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…I have some scars that remind me of happenings in my life.

  7. Just to be able to say, “I run in a marathon,” makes the scares worth it, at least in my books. Because if they are not worth it, then I got a few scares because I greatly overestimated my abilities, and that just can’t be it. 🙂

  8. I have a few leg scars of my own but not from marathons – mine were usually caused from running at full speed across playgrounds when playing cricket with the boys.

    1. No marathons for me, either. The most I’ve done is the Broad Street Run (Philadelphia) – 10 miles. Not sure I could summon up a 1/2 marathon at this point, unless I gave myself permission to walk at times.

  9. Completing a marathon is a huge accomplishment – congratulations! I’ve never run in one – though I used to run in 10Ks. For a bunch of years, my family and I would hand out orange slices to runners in the New York Marathon. You can’t do that anymore but you can still go to cheer them on.

  10. Impressive! It’s amazing what the body can accomplish with practice and perseverance. A long time ago, worked up to running two miles and thought that was pretty good. 🙂

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