David Weir on 20 years at the London Marathon
On Sunday 28 April 2019, David Weir will be on the Start Line of the London Marathon for the 20th consecutive time.
During his 20-year relationship with the race, Weir has secured legendary status. In 2018 he won his eighth London Marathon title – more than double that of any other athlete.
With that landmark on the horizon, the 'Weirwolf' reflects on an incredible career so far and what keeps him coming back to the capital.
"It's quite a privilege," he says. "I'm proud of myself... It's been a journey from day one.
"I just feel proud that I've not missed one. I always said to myself every year to make sure if I only do one race it's got to be the London Marathon."
I said to my parents "I think I want to try that sport"
"As a young kid I was passionate about other sports. My family were big boxers, so I was always in gyms watching my brothers train and spar, and travelling around London and the country as a four-year-old to watch them fight .
"And then watching my friends play Sunday League (football) and going to support them, I just found that I couldn't find a sport that could fulfil my needs like watching them. I had to find a sport that gave me the desire that I got watching my brothers fight.
"Watching the London Marathon, that was the only place you saw wheelchairs on TV in the early eighties. Seeing the greats like Chris Hallam, Tanni (Grey-Thompson) and Dave Holding doing the London Marathon, I said to my parents 'I think I want to try that sport.'"
I did the Mini Marathon and fell in love
"It took a number of years [to get into wheelchair racing] because I tried other sports, and it was quite hard to get a racing chair. And then I did the Mini London Marathon in my day chair and fell in love.
"I was quite fortunate that my local council used to have a sports grant for young, aspiring kids and I think I was the first disabled person to apply for it. I think it shocked them and they gave me a grant to get my first racing chair.
|A young David Weir with his Father|
"I think it was about £1,000 – something like that – and I had to raise a bit more to get the extra bits, but I had a good family network and good friends around me and that's how I got my first racing chair. It was probably the best thing I ever got.
"I remember getting it and just outside my old house I had this stretch of path, and I remember practising for the Mini London Marathon, just going up and down, turn around, go back, up and down. I just loved this new racing chair that I'd got."
"I remember doing the qualifier, it was in the streets of London somewhere. I just remember it being some backstreets and they said we had to do two-and-a-half miles in under 30 minutes and you had to be 11. I was eight, so I lied. My parents were a bit worried but I said 'No, I've got to do it', so we lied about my age for a few years, to be honest.
"I just remember the course being up and down curves. It was more like an agility course than a time trial for a Mini Marathon. I scraped through under 29 minutes and it was probably the proudest moment of my career.
"I remember lining up for the Mini London Marathon and just getting ready and doing it for fun. Looking around at these amazing athletes in their amazing racing chairs, I was stuck in an NHS day chair and I felt proud being in the same environment as these young adults that were going to be the next generation of wheelchair racing. I just wanted to be like them."
I knew I had a special talent
"When you had the elite British wheelchair racers saying to your face that your technique and your ability was something they'd never seen before...I just knew from probably the age of 11.
"I always wanted to play basketball to be honest and I did the International Junior Games and we had a makeshift basketball team which made the final and lost. I got frustrated because the team didn't play that well.
"I was racing in the afternoon and I remember winning all my races. I got a totally different buzz and that's when I realised I was more of an individual man in an individual sport and I said to my Dad 'This is the sport I want to do.' He said 'Alright, I'll take you wherever you want to go.'
"I just knew when I got selected for the senior squad – I think I was 12 or 13 and I was beating men – I knew I had a special talent.
|Weir celebrates winning his first London Marathon title in 2002|
"If you ever get in front, don't look back"
Weir won his first London Marathon elite wheelchair race in 2002.
"On the day, Pierre Fairbank was probably the fastest marathon racer who entered. I didn't think I'd be anywhere near those guys. I remember being in a pack, Fairbank made a break and I was the only man chasing him down. When I looked back there was no one near me, so I just tried to chase.
"He took a corner wrong and hit an island in the middle [of the road] and then I was in the lead and I thought 'What do I do now? Do I wait for the pack?' I remembered Jenny (Archer, Weir's coach) saying to me if you ever get in front, don't ever look back, carry on pushing to the end and that's what I did. The pack didn't catch me and I crossed that line."
I don't know how I got on the Start Line in 2017
"They [London Marathon wins] are all special. Truly I think I should have more. I should have won a few others but that could have been down to lack of training, underestimating the racers... there was a period where I felt I was at the top of the game and no one could beat me, and then you realise actually there's a younger generation that are trying to chase you down.
"But 2017 was probably special because of what happened in Rio. My mental state at that time of the year was not great, and to be honest I don't know how I got on the Start Line, let alone race."
It's the only race I look forward to every year
"To be honest, it's the only race I look forward to every year. I like doing all the others, but the London Marathon is the one that's in my heart, because of how I started.
"From day one I wanted to do the London Marathon and win it. It doesn't matter how many times I win it, it always feels special."
The fear of failure drives me on
"Tanni's record was something special but I knew I was capable of beating her wins, and it was a special moment, to beat a great Paralympic icon like Tanni.
"The fear of failure and losing – that drives me on every year to make sure I don't come out of that top three.
"At the back-end of my career I'm racing guys that are 20 years younger than me. I seem to stay injury free – touch wood – and try to stay as healthy as I can. I try to change things in training to improve. There are not many gains I can get at the moment but there are little things I can still do to win races... just turning up on the Start Line scares people I think a little bit.
"I think a lot of people were surprised by my performances in the last few marathons. I wasn't but I think a lot them – especially the older generation [were]. I feel I'm stronger and fitter than I've been for years to be honest. As long as that carries on, I'll carry on."
There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders
"I've had [pressure] since 2012. I think there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders to always deliver, if it wasn't on the racing field it was at home, if it wasn't there it was with other people. I just felt I always had to please everyone else but myself, and I think that's why I fell out of love with track racing.
"That's why I didn't know if I was going to carry on, but the thing is I didn't get that with the marathon circuit. I didn't get that at the London Marathon. I don't know why.
"Going back to 2017, I had loads of other stuff going on in the background that I just didn't know what I wanted to do with life. I'm glad I didn't pack it in, because I probably wouldn't be here now, racing and doing well.
I'll know when it's time to hang my gloves up
"I've always said if I ever fall back into the second pack and at least two or three minutes behind then I'll know it's time to retire.
"Not if it's an off-day, or I've been ill or something like that, but if it's a continuous pattern, then I'll know it's time to hang my gloves up."