Last year’s British champion is delighted to feel the excitement building again as he takes inspiration from returning recreational runners
Jonny Mellor thrived in the elite-only atmosphere of last year’s London Marathon. He took the cold, damp monotony of covering 19 laps around St James’s Park comfortably in his stride to become British champion.
The Liverpool Harrier admits, though, that the event was not “London as we know it” and is delighted to be feeling a level of pre-race excitement he has not experienced for some time.
He will line up for his fifth consecutive London Marathon not just buoyed by a return to the traditional route which starts in Blackheath and finishes on The Mall, but also inspired by the efforts he has seen from the recreational runners he coaches and the chance to share the road with the masses again. This time feels different.
“It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been excited,” says the 34-year-old. “I think there’s more of a buzz around the running community now because it’s not just the elites. The recreational runners create a big buzz around it as well and the people I coach have autumn marathons lined up.
“If you wind the clock back 12 months, I was worried and I was spending all my time motivating everyone and getting them all fired up – that was my job.
“But now it’s more a case of trying to hold everyone back a little bit because they’re so excited. I say this to a few of them and I don’t know if they believe me but I find working with recreational runners quite inspiring.
“They’re juggling three kids, full-time jobs and stuff like that but are still getting the training done and still getting out there and doing it. It definitely does help when I’m training for a marathon as well.”
He adds: “It’s been exciting to see the elite start lists [for various autumn races] being released and seeing who’s doing which one adds to the excitement as well.
“I think it’s unique that there are so many of them [at the same time] and I think it’s a good opportunity to finish high up in some of these majors.”
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To find Mellor in such an upbeat mood is good news indeed. He and good fortune have not always gone hand in hand in recent times.
For example, in 2018 he was more than a minute inside the marathon qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games but England failed to pick him for the team, saying they had reached their maximum allowable limit of athletes in the squad.
Then came this year’s disappointment, brought about by an extraordinary injury. Having run 2:10 twice and becoming British champion in 2020, he was stopped in his tracks by an issue which stemmed from him sleeping with his legs in compression sleeves. One of the sleeves rolled down, leaving a dent in his lower leg which caused tendon damage and meant he would be in no position to contest the Olympic marathon trials.
He instead had to watch as Chris Thompson and Ben Connor qualified for Tokyo in Kew Gardens, joining the pre-selected Callum Hawkins.
The experience hasn’t put him off trying to win a first GB vest since he contested the 3000m at the World Indoor Championships of 2014, however.
A place at next year’s World Championships in Eugene could be secured by a good performance in London.
“It’s going be a little bit of extra kind of motivation this time around to go for the World Championships and more prove to myself that I can run a sub-2:10 marathon,” says Mellor.
“The three guys who ended up running in Tokyo fully deserved their places on the team, so it’s not necessarily proving a point to selectors, it is more to myself that I can perform at that level.”
As for representing his country again, he adds: “That might be something I look back on I wish I’d done more of but, for one reason or another I’ve probably not done it as much as I’d have liked.
“It’s definitely something that I’d like to do [again] – whether it is at the World Champs or Commonwealth Games or even Europeans [next year].
“The World Champs is the pinnacle in athletics but, equally, if there’s an opportunity to go and win a medal at the Commonwealth Games that might be an exciting option as well.”
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Putting himself in a position where he is spoiled for choice would be Mellor’s ideal scenario but, to do so, first he’ll have to produce another high quality run in London. There has been a consistency to his work over 26.2 miles but, even an ever-growing bank of expertise offers no guarantees at this distance.
“I’ve done nine marathons now and I still feel like I’m learning with each one,” adds the Steve Vernon-coached athlete. “That’s what I love about the distance and it’s exciting to me. There’s always room for improvement.
“I’ve had to work hard on different things – not just the training but also nutrition and the mental approach as well – and that’s why I’m maybe showing I’m a little bit more consistent now.
“But, then again, it’s still the marathon and anything can happen on the day so I’m prepared for that, too.”
British men in London
Jonny Mellor PB 2:10:03
Mo Aadan PB 2:12:20
Joshua Griffiths PB 2:13:11
Charlie Hulson PB 2:13:34
Andrew Davies PB 2:14:36
Weynay Ghebreselassie PB 2:17:26
Matthew Leach PB 2:17:38
Josh Lunn PB 2:17:59
Dan Nash PB 2:18:51
Ross Skelton PB 2:19:21
Doug Musson debut
Jamie Crowe debut
Phil Sesemann debut
Qualifying marks for upcoming major champs
As ever with the marathon, it’s not just about who finishes first. There will be a number of subplots to keep an eye on over the coming months and races, with major championships qualifying standards – at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships – to aim for.
First come the World Championships and the British Athletics selection criteria states: “The first eligible British athlete at the 2021 London Marathon will automatically be selected, provided they have achieved at least one qualification standard by the end of the British Athletics qualification period January 1, 2021 – February 28 2022.”
British Athletics World Championships standard: Men – 2:11:30; Women – 2:29:30
European Championships standard: Men – 2:14:30; Women – 2:32:00
England Commonwealth Games standard: Men – 2:14:00; Women – 2:34:00
Scotland Commonwealth Games standard: Men – 2:15:12; Women – 2:36:49
Wales Commonwealth Games standard: Men – 2:15:30; Women – 2:35:30
Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games standard: Men – 2:13:00; Women – 2:32:00
» This article first appeared in the September issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here