After storming to glory in 1993, little did the Basildon runner realise that it would signal the start of a 30-year drought of domestic male victories at the London Marathon
It is 30 years since Eamonn Martin charged to victory in the London Marathon. Making his debut at the distance, the then 34-year-old showed few signs of inexperience and always looked in control as he followed every move. In the closing stages only one rival remained – Isidro Rico of Mexico. But, racing under the shadow of Big Ben with 200m to go, the British 10,000m record-holder unleashed his trademark sprint finish to triumph emphatically in a time of 2:10:50.
It was a grey, windswept spring morning in the capital and the jubilant Martin was cheered home by huge crowds before being overwhelmed by interview requests in the subsequent days. In typical old-school fashion, six days later he put his Basildon AC singlet on again to race for his club at the national road relays and received a standing ovation from fellow athletes at Sutton Park.
Following the victories of Hugh Jones, Mike Gratton, Charlie Spedding, Steve Jones and Allister Hutton, Martin was the sixth British man to triumph in the race in the space of 12 years. What nobody could imagine at the time, though, is that no British male runner has been unable to win the race since.
“I get no pleasure out of the fact that no British man has won since me,” he says. “I don’t want to take that to my grave. I want the sport that I’m so heavily involved in to have progressed. If a Brit won in the next few years, I would be genuinely really pleased. The kudos of winning in 1993 has been great, but it’s done.”
Ironically, Martin was not massively favoured to win back then either. Some considered him too tall and heavy to be a good marathon runner. He was also in the twilight of his career, had never run a marathon and was minus a shoe sponsor at the time. After winning, though, he joked that he was “fastest fat old git on the day”.
At the pre-event press conference the British male contenders included Martin, Paul Evans, Paul Davies-Hale, Carl Thackery and Steve Brace. Martin was last to be brought on to the stage but whereas his fellow competitors talked about various injuries and problems they’d suffered, he simply smiled and said “everything went perfectly”.
His build-up had been injury and illness-free. After enjoying victory at the Hastings Half Marathon, he placed a solid 34th in the World Cross Country Championships in Spain three weeks before London. A 25-mile long run followed, as did a fast five-miler at the Southern Road Relays for his club.
“I was still the British record-holder for 10,000m and had a lot of speed. I had been running a lot of miles for a number of years so I went into it [London] with a view to winning,” he says. “I thought I might not have too many marathons as I was already 34 so I thought I’d go straight into a big one. The timing and locality in London was good. My aim was to run with the leaders and if things went wrong and I wasn’t good enough, then fair enough. I knew I was in great shape, though.”
Close to the race, Martin’s coach Mel Batty paid a visit to Ron Hill in Lancashire and explained his athlete’s training to the former European, Commonwealth and Boston marathon winner. “There are multiple ways to prepare,” recalls Martin, “but Ron told Mel that he felt we were doing everything right, which for me was a real stamp of approval.”
On the Thursday of race week, Martin’s wife gave birth to their third child, which meant he welcomed his new-born son into the world before travelling into London for the press conference and race.
Martin had prepared painstakingly for the event and had practised taking energy drinks balanced on steeplechase barriers while doing track workouts. With a background of working as an engineer for Ford, he applied a methodical and scientific approach to his running. Yet despite this he chose not to wear socks nor a watch on race day.
“I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant, but I could always see the lead vehicle!” he laughs. “Why did I want to have another gadget that would take my focus away from just running?”
As for going sock-less, he never wore socks in shorter races and had no problems with blisters or indeed chafing elsewhere on his body. For Martin, it was just another race. Albeit much longer than usual.
In the race itself, Martin’s rivals fell away one by one as the miles ticked by. He recalls: “I got to halfway and some athletes had dropped away. At 16 miles more vanished. At 20 miles it was by then a small group. I felt that as we went on at the same pace then more and more would drop off.”
Martin’s strategy was to let others lead and to just sit behind but he found himself accidentally creeping into the lead at some points. “I felt I was full of running,” he says.
READ MORE: AW’s original report from 1993
Passing Tower Bridge at around 22 miles there was a moment when he saw a group of friends and he waved and smiled. He wasn’t celebrating prematurely, though. “I was just trying to tell them ‘believe it or not I’m still here and feeling okay!’”
He adds: “It got to the point where it was just me and Rico battling it out and I was really familiar with battling it out with ‘AN Other’ at the end of a race – whether it was on the track, country or road. It was a very familiar scenario, albeit not at the end of 26 miles of running.”
» This is an extract from a feature in the April issue of AW magazine, which you can read here