The story (and irony) of a ‘Good For Age’ Virgin London Marathon place

The story (and irony) of a ‘Good For Age’ VLM place… 24th March 2016

It arrived through the post this morning: my Virgin London Marathon ‘Good for Age’ entry pack. It’s my third time securing a place by virtue of achieving a ‘qualifying time’, and – dare I say it – I’ve become a bit blasé about it.

But it wasn’t always this way. Here’s my story.


My first ever London Marathon was when Tilly was 7 months old. It was my post-pregnancy goal – my reason to come back fighting. This diary entry was written when Tilly was just 11 weeks old:

“Getting through the pregnancy seemed a long haul – especially in this job – but we got there, and on 22 September at 9.10pm Tilly Cullen Hanson was born. This whole journey has given me a brand new perspective on the pressures of being a new mum, having expectations of my own body that are unrealistic, and adapting to a totally new way of life. Experiencing new responsibilities, having a new focus and a (very) high mountain to climb to get myself back from a walking incubator to being ‘me’ again all seems like a daunting task. My little girl is now only 11 weeks old, and my challenge has just started. Only this time I want to be fitter, stronger, and faster than before. Why should being a mum mean that I have to compromise my fitness, my running (which I love), my body and my confidence? I refuse to accept that it does. Watch this space for proof of that.”

And so I completed the 2011 VLM in a time of 4:25. I was ecstatic at having completed my own, very personal goal. However, I wanted to do better: I knew I could do better. Given more time to train, to allow my body longer to recover from being wrecked by forceps and episiotomies – I would be back, and I would break 4 hours. That was my goal.


My first Marathon: VLM 2011 in 4:25

So, in 2012 I returned – having managed to bag another ballot place – and I crossed the finish line in 3:50 and a few seconds (the few seconds are important. You’ll see why.) Back then, the Good for Age qualifying time for me was 3:50. I had no idea it existed. I’d never heard it, let alone allowed myself the self-indulgent fantasy of believing I was capable of achieving it. But shit! When I found out about it, I looked again at my time. Bloody hell! I’m only a few seconds off it! Just as before, I wanted to do better. I KNEW I could do better. With even more training, more discipline & more dedication, I believed I could achieve that standard.


VLM 2012: 3:50 and a few seconds…

So, I wrote to the VLM Race Director, My Hugh Brasher. I explained to him that I fully believed I could smash the 3:50 GFA qualifying time right out of town, if he gave me the chance – I mitigated that had I not stopped on route several times to arse about and take selfies of Will Young and Iwan Thomas (both of whom I passed) then I would have – without question – qualified automatically for 2013 VLM entry.

One of his minions wrote back to me. Unfortunately, those ‘and a few seconds’ were a few seconds too many. She explained to me that if they were to nudge the cut-off qualifying time for me, it would open the floodgates to an endless number of other just a few second-ers and erode their management of the GFA application process. Disappointed, I understood and accepted their stance. It was – and still is – arguably a far more achievable qualifying time for females than it is for males, and I respected the floodgates argument. I would have to try again, and do better.

Unfortunately, in 2013 I didn’t secure a VLM place: the Ballot Gods weren’t shining down on me, and so I entered the Edinburgh Marathon instead. It was still possible for me to prove to Hugh and his Minion that I was true to my word, and that I COULD do better. That year, I’d battled with glandular fever, dramatic (unhealthy) weight loss, and it was touch & go as to whether I’d be fit enough to run the marathon at all, let alone go for a GFA qualifying time. The Leeds Half marathon in early May was my test: if I could do that in reasonable time and feel OK, I was still running Edinburgh. And so I did. My health having been hit and miss for the entire build-up, I struggled most of the way round, and crawled over the finishing line in 3:45 and a few seconds (these few seconds are now important too. You’ll see why.)

Edinburgh Marathon Photo

THIRD marathon… Edinburgh 2013…the few seconds really matter. Again.

Dear Mr Brasher,

I’m writing to let you know that I have just completed the Edinburgh Marathon in a time of 3:45 and a few seconds. You may recall that I wrote to you last year after completing the Virgin London Marathon in a time of 3:50 and a few seconds.

When I passed the finishing line in Edinburgh and I looked at the clock, I couldn’t believe I’d qualified for a VLM Good for Age place for 2014. And then I looked at the website, and noticed that the goal posts had been changed whilst I wasn’t looking.

I understand that the qualifying time has been reduced for my age category from 3:50 to 3:45. I am devastated, as I’m sure that had I known this was the case, I could have dug deeper and shaved off those few seconds.

As it stands, I’m writing to you again to ask you for a chance to prove that I can meet this standard.

With kind regards,

Rachel Cullen

So, TWICE I was the ‘almost’ girl. TWICE I was seconds away from the cut-off ‘Good for Age’ qualifying time. TWICE I wrote to Hugh Brasher – VLM Race Director, asking him to allow me to squeeze through the turnstiles and give me a chance.

He wrote back to me: personally, this time. His reply said:

“Dear Miss Cullen

Thank you for your letter. I am pleased to be able to offer you a place in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon. My assistant will be in touch with you regarding this.

Good Luck


And that was it: I was in.

I came back in 2014, and I ran hard. I was hoping for somewhere around 3:30, and set of at that pace. But I knew I could do more. I knew I could do better. I crossed the line in 3:22 and I’d smashed through all of those barriers that had kept me hovering around the GFA qualifying time – and writing begging letters to Mr Brashner – for the previous two years.

I didn’t need to write to him again, but I did anyway. Just to say thank you for giving me the chance to prove that I could earn myself a Virgin London Marathon Good for Age place in my own right.

I’ve had one ever since.

*the irony lies in the fact that I’ve had to defer from this year’s VLM due to overtraining! Who’d have thought?! I may write to Hugh instead…


6 thoughts on “The story (and irony) of a ‘Good For Age’ Virgin London Marathon place

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