After three years of training, David Wyeth had a large personal stake in crossing the London Marathon’s finish line. When his muscles stopped responding just feet away from the end, however, he crashed helplessly to the floor. And following that catastrophe, all Wyeth could seemingly do was watch other athletes stream past him to complete the course. But then another competitor spotted the stricken man – and the fellow runner made a heartwarming decision.
Since the London Marathon’s debut in March 1981, completing the event has been a milestone in many an athlete’s career. That said, the English capital had held prestigious running events for decades prior to that inaugural test of endurance in the ’80s. For a while, you see, London was known in certain circles for the long-distance Polytechnic Marathon – or the Poly – which had started back in 1909.
The Poly took place over a now-standardized 26.2-mile course and played host to eight record-breaking achievements before its decline in 1996. And while the Poly and the London Marathon were both once part of the running world calendar, the latter has now taken center stage. Interestingly, though, the initial inspiration for the Virgin Money London Marathon – to give it its full title – came from across the pond.
When journalist and ex-Olympic champion Chris Brasher finished the New York City Marathon in 1979, the resulting celebration moved him. And his subsequent piece for British newspaper The Observer revealed as much. “To believe this story, you must believe that the human race [is] one joyous family – working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible,” Brasher reported.
Brasher continued, “Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.” The journalist subsequently wondered if the same result would be possible in London.
The former Olympian answered that query, however, by co-founding the London Marathon with Welsh runner Jon Disely. And the event was a resounding success; for the very first race alone, authorities chose 6,747 athletes to participate out of the 20,000-plus that put in applications. These days, the turnout is even higher: around 40,000 people ran in the 2018 London Marathon.
In fact, the London Marathon has become so popular that it’s now among the Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM). Athletes who compete in all face six gruelling races across New York, Tokyo, Boston, Berlin and Chicago as well as the English capital. There’s also a wheelchair division and significant cash prizes for the top three male and female winners.
Of course, completing the London Marathon isn’t a piece of cake. Although the track is relatively flat, it still spans just over 26 miles alongside the city’s iconic River Thames. Yet the prospect doesn’t deter some amateur runners from tackling the race – including those who compete for noble reasons.
In fact, the London Marathon attracts a lot of entrants who run to raise money for charity. People often participate in costumes, too, which can add an extra element of challenge to the course. And former soccer player Lloyd Scott was among those who were unusually dressed when he competed in the 2002 marathon.
Specifically, for the race Scott wore a 110-pound deep sea diving suit that brought his pace down to a crawl. And although it took him five days and eight hours to complete the course, he nevertheless earned a world record in the process. Yes, Scott can now boast of being the slowest runner to cross the London Marathon’s finish line in its history.
In commemoration of Scott’s efforts, London’s National Maritime Museum now exhibits the suit complete with its former owner’s marathon number. And while the London Marathon has hosted many similar victories and achievements, it’s also been the site of tragedies. For some, the race has even sadly ended in death.
Over the course of the London Marathon’s 38-year lifespan, 14 people have passed away while racing. Organizers were further concerned for participants during the 2018 event when temperatures in the city reached record highs of over 74 °F. As a result, then, officials warned competitors against risking their lives by wearing potentially dangerous costumes.
On a more positive note, though, Welsh athlete Matthew Rees discovered the potential benefits of running when he began training in 2015. In particular, Rees revealed in a video posted to YouTube channel HSBC NOW in 2017 that running had seemingly begun to improve both his physical and mental health. And that was despite the fact he hadn’t previously been fond of the activity.
“I was going through some really low points in my life suffering with anxiety, and I went through bouts of depression,” Rees recalls in the clip. “I used to shut myself away… to hide from the world. I’d stay in my room for days on end and not respond to any messages.”
Rees added that even food shopping had become too much for him. In turn, then, “[he] sought counseling and… was advised that running was a great way to help with anxiety.” The Welshman went on, “Sometimes it’s difficult to leave the house to go on a run. Getting your trainers on and getting out can be difficult.”
But even though Rees sometimes found it hard to start running, he ultimately discovered that the process helped his anxiety symptoms. Over time, then, his confidence increased to the point that he decided to join the Swansea Harriers Athletics Club. And while the bank worker was initially dubious about finding a place among the group, the other members ended up bringing him into the fold.
“It is a community in the running world,” Rees describes in the HSBC NOW video. “I was anxious about going to the club. I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough or I wouldn’t fit in. But [the members] were so supportive, and they welcomed me. Before I knew it, I was entering races and doing really well.”
In fact, Rees’ efforts in a half marathon earned him a championship starting position in the London Marathon in 2017. And despite the occasion marking the athlete’s first time at the event, he completed the course in a highly impressive two hours and 29 minutes – meaning he ranked among the race’s top 100 finishers. The Swansea Harrier’s achievements didn’t end there, though.
These days, Rees works as a coach for other athletes and runs with the FrontRunner Team for U.K. Asics. He achieved fame, however, for an entirely different reason during the final stretch of the 2017 London Marathon. To be more specific, he ended up wowing the crowds after he approached another athlete: David Wyeth.
Wyeth is a project manager, a father of two and a member of the Chorlton Runners athletics club, which he represented at the London Marathon. And he spoke about the experience of running alongside other eager athletes – including Rees – for the Chorlton Runners’ website following the event in 2017.
There, Wyeth is quoted as saying, “Being something of a Luddite when it comes to all things social media and neglecting to foster one’s own digital footprint, my prior indulgence in a low-key existence was somewhat shattered on April 23rd.” The runner found online fame of a sort, you see, after he collapsed just under 1,000 feet from the end of the race.
“I was just about to sprint to the finish when I saw David,” Rees recounted to The Guardian that month. “His legs were completely jelly-like, and he collapsed in front of me.” An exercise-based reaction called the Foster collapse was responsible; this phenomenon is characterized by severe muscle fatigue among other symptoms.
In fact, Foster collapses sometimes cause potentially lethal health problems such as cardiac arrest. And even if Wyeth was fortunate in that regard, the condition nevertheless incapacitated him; he couldn’t take another step. “I really wouldn’t have got across the line – on my hands and knees, maybe,” the runner later recounted. But although many people simply rushed past the stricken man in a bid for the finish line, Rees wasn’t among them.
Yes, in arguably the most heartwarming moment of the marathon, the Welsh athlete postponed his race in order to assist Wyeth, with the Swansea Harrier approaching the fallen runner. Fortunately, Wyeth was still conscious, and Rees said that his fellow competitor had had just one thing on his mind.
“I went over, and [Wyeth] said, ‘I’ve got to finish,’” Rees revealed to the Press Association in 2017. “And I said, ‘You will,’ and I helped him up. It was clear he wouldn’t be able to do this alone, so I thought, ‘Stick with him’ to make sure he did reach that finish line.” A London Marathon volunteer called Keith also helped support Wyeth.
“So, I decided to forget my race,” Rees continued. “[Wyeth] had come so far, and after 26 miles of running I wanted him to make the finish.” And that’s exactly what he did. With one arm around Wyeth, the Swansea Harrier supported a stranger whom he had never met before and helped him to achieve his goal.
Rees didn’t just provide physical support to his impromptu partner, though; throughout the last stretch of the race, he also kept talking to Wyeth. Rees later revealed, “I was trying to motivate [Wyeth] and keep him coherent. I just kept on saying, ‘You will finish. I won’t leave your side, we’ll get to that finish line.’”
Rees even sacrificed his own time to assist Wyeth in the race. He could potentially have finished the marathon in less than two hours and 50 minutes if he’d continued. When he saw a fellow runner in need, though, the man felt it only right to stop and lend a hand.
“So, I didn’t get the time I was looking for,” Rees told The Guardian. “But I got a memorable moment, and that’s more important.” That said, Rees still crossed the finishing line – with Wyeth in tow – in a highly respectable two hours and 52 minutes.
And in fact Wyeth recorded a slightly faster finish time than his companion’s, completing the course in two hours and 51 minutes despite his collapse. This didn’t matter to either of the athletes, though – even Wyeth himself. “The time means absolutely nothing to me,” he told the Press Association. “I feel a slight fraud for having a medal around my neck.”
“I should cut a little piece [of the medal] out because it belongs to Matthew,” Wyeth continued. “The time meant nothing in the end, because I know I wouldn’t have got there without Matthew putting his arm around me and carrying me over the line.” But the father of two’s biggest regret is causing his family worry.
“I knew where [my family] were positioned for the last viewing point,” a choked-up Wyeth explained, “and that was around Westminster. I think I was in a state of distress at that point around Westminster. And they knew something was wrong, that I was injured – or worse.”
Rees and Wyeth were in for an additional surprise, though, when their interaction went viral. Yes, the moment had been recorded, after which the footage was uploaded to the London Marathon official Twitter account. The accompanying comment read, “Matthew Rees, of @SwanHarrierDev, you’ve just encompassed everything that’s so special about the #LondonMarathon. We salute you.”
Yet Rees and Wyeth have seemingly remained modest in the face of all the praise and media attention. “Neither of us have egos about the situation,” the father of two told BBC News in 2018. He added, “And we are both a bit perplexed by the attention – particularly that next day.”
Indeed, as Rees revealed to The Guardian, it’s actually common for runners to help fallen fellow athletes. In his mind, then, the only difference was that the cameras had caught his actions on that particular day. The event was a bonding encounter either way, and the pair have stayed in touch since the 2017 London Marathon.
“Since then, it was very similar [to] if we had met in a pub or any other scenario,” Rees said to BBC News. “We compare training, and we have been running today. We have done other events together; our partners get on as well.” He added, “We’re good mates now. You don’t expect to make a friend when you are going to race.”
The Swansea Harrier continued, “[Wyeth’s] a really great guy, and we’ve got a lot in common. We both started running two years ago, and we’ve got similar goals and outlooks on running. We’ll stay in touch and hopefully race in an event together in the future.” But did they ever achieve that goal?
Well, yes, they did. And not only did Rees and Wyeth run the 2018 London Marathon together, but they also started side by side. However, as they each got into their own strides, the buddies lost track of each other among the racing crowds.
“We started the race together, but I didn’t see David,” Rees told Wales Online later that month. “It was so tough in the heat, but the crowds were amazing. It was just a battle to get to the end. But the support made it easier.” Still, it wasn’t long before Rees and Wyeth reunited. “When I turned around – pretty much as soon as I finished – there [Wyeth] was, and it was brilliant to see him,” the Welshman added.
And how did Wyeth feel about the conclusion? “I was pleased to see him,” the now fully recovered runner said of Rees. “I assumed he had gone to have a shower – he had already congratulated the winners – but it was great to see him. Great [that] the first person to give a hug was my main man.”