One of those who definitely ran the full distance was Reading AC’s Anna Boniface. The 26-year-old won the championship race in 2:37:07, displaying the best of grassroots dedication and an expertly executed training plan.
Forget the elite runners. Anna has had her eyes firmly fixed on an attempt at the marathon since her mum’s inspirational run in London back in 2001. A long-distance career, though, has always seemed likely ever since she caused bewilderment among her parents by running ‘laps and laps and laps (and laps) of the local cricket pitch’ at the age of just four.
Yet, the road hasn’t been entirely pothole-free for Anna. Hardly the leader of the running pack – or even close to the front for that matter – other sports held her attention at secondary school. Reversing the trend of talented teenagers dropping out the sport, come sixth-form, the running bug took hold.
‘My PE teacher really encouraged me to commit more to running and that’s when I joined Reading AC in 2007,’ remembers Anna.
But soon after, a nasty hip injury led to months on crutches. A self-imposed break meant that Anna didn’t lace up her trainers again until joining Brunel University four years later.READ GABBY COLLISON'S THE REALITY BEHIND THE MARATHON
It’s from then on that her Power of Ten profile reads much like a fixture list. Averaging over thirty races a year in the colours of Reading and Brunel, Anna certainly isn’t the type to shy away from competition – and her improvement across all distances since has been staggering.
‘A lot of it is down to sheer determination. I’m quite a single-minded person and I will put all my energy into something I’m passionate about,’ admits Anna.
That determination has seen her go from running 92:57 in her maiden half marathon six years ago to 76:35 in Reading this year. She also carved three minutes off her 5k time from just under 21 minutes to a tidy 17:31 last month – all within the hard slog of marathon miles. Evidence enough of the need to maintain a dash of speed during the marathon process.
After graduating from Brunel University and a stint working as a physio at the London Marathon in 2014, Anna was struck with a severe case of marathon fever.
‘After that, I said that if I ran under 90 minutes for a half to make the championship qualifying time, then I would do it,’ she recalls. ‘That happened at the Reading Half in 2015 and my first marathon was the London Marathon in 2016.’
Her potential over 26.2 miles became clear after a decent 2:45:53 on her marathon debut. The realities of hundred-mile weeks, however, on top of a full-time job isn’t something to be under-estimated, particularly when working shifts in an acute hospital setting.
‘I had to work weekends, often doing ten days straight, including “on calls” where you get called out to treat unwell patients in the middle of the night and still have be back at work the next morning,’ says Anna.
Much like aircraft technician, Steve Jones, in the ‘80s – or perhaps more akin to fellow NHS worker and now London 2017-bound, Tracy Barlow – the respiratory physiotherapist is proving that marathon running and full-time employment can co-exist successfully.
‘Tracy [Barlow] is a huge inspiration to me. We both have very similar stories and I feel that I’m following in her footsteps, even more so now that I won the mass race a year after she did – she ran her first sub-3 hours after doing nights!’READ TRACY BARLOW'S LONDON MARATHON BLOG
‘I knew that to progress as a marathon runner, though, I would need to change my working pattern. A job opportunity came at the right time, so I moved back home to Reading so I could train with my training group and started my new job working nine to five.’
Since changing her working pattern and teaming up with Rob McKim, coach to recent BUCS 5,000m champion Jonny Davies, Anna’s training seems pretty typical for a marathoner. The bulk of it consists of tempo work on grass and track with the group at Reading AC – nicknamed the ‘Rob Squad’ – plus the occasional VO2 session and a long run on a Sunday.
With all her training geared towards running six-minute mile pace, the gears certainly whirred into place come race day, albeit with a slightly too quick opening few kilometres typical of the London route.
‘The first 5k has quite a lot of downhill and I was way ahead of schedule. I knew this was very risky, but I stopped looking at my splits and from then on ran entirely on feel,’ explains Anna.
‘I don’t know how I kept going after mile 24 as I was just about to fall off the knife edge. It was the hardest I have ever pushed myself physically and mentally but I think being in first place is what made me push so hard because I really raced it, rather than obsessed on my time.’FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ANNA BONIFACE ON HER BLOG
The change of lifestyle, group training environment and hard miles at race pace certainly came to fruition. Incidentally, Anna’s average pace was 5 minutes 59.8 per mile. Hats off to an expert training plan that got the job done.
Much like Swansea Harrier and fellow mass-start runner, Josh Griffiths, who upset the elites to cross the line as first British male, Anna’s rise should inspire all passionate club runners pounding out the early morning and late-night sessions. Just as Tracy Barlow acted as a fillip to Anna’s marathon aspirations, so too can Anna’s recent ascent.
While fitting training around the working week is a reality for most grassroots club runners, as Anna herself says, ‘it just goes to show that, even though it’s really tough, especially with a full-time job, if you’re dedicated and want it enough, you can get to the top.’
Words by Hannah Viner
Image from Anna Boniface