Wearing a pair of shorts hastily borrowed from his 15-year-old brother and a T-shirt bought from a London Marathon stall, Josh Griffiths took a moment to look around in disbelief. To one side was Abel Kirui, a double world champion and Olympic silver medallist. To the other Kenenisa Bekele, widely considered the greatest distance runner of all time.
Then there was Griffiths – a self-coached student who had missed his train back to Wales and was instead hobnobbing with running royalty. “You feel like you shouldn’t really be there,” he says, with a baffled chuckle. “It was crazy.”
We meet a few days after Griffiths, 23, produced one of the shock results of recent London Marathon history when he broke clear of the club running ranks to beat every British elite athlete and unexpectedly qualify for this summer’s World Championships in the process.
His phone has not stopped ringing since he crossed the line and although he would probably admit he is not a natural orator, he is keen to savour the attention, aware this is something he never thought he would experience.
As I turn into the small cul-de-sac in rural west Wales, he is already eagerly standing in the doorway of the family home he has lived in since he was 10 years old.
A football goal sits in the front garden – “as a kid you always dream you’re going to be a football player” – and there has not yet been time to add a photograph of his London Marathon triumph to the numerous running shots scattered around the house.
As the conversation progresses, the multitude of little anecdotes in Griffiths’ amateur-to-champion story is almost laughable.
Like the fact that he was left dodging hordes of City workers heading home for the weekend after having the “terrible idea” of a warm-up run around the streets of London Bridge at Friday rush hour.
Or that his pre-race 5am meal was a cooked piece of salmon that he had bought from the supermarket the day before and kept out overnight in his Premier Inn hotel room because he did not have access to a fridge.
Or that he travelled by London Underground to the race and had to follow a paramedic weaving his way to the front of the club runners because he had no idea where he was going.
Despite all that he won. Wearing his Swansea Harriers vest and starting alongside the other leading club runners about 15 metres behind the elite athletes, Griffiths finished his debut marathon in 2hr 14min and 49sec to be the first British athlete home.
Where two months ago he was winning his local park run in Gorslas, this summer he will now represent Britain at the World Championships in London.
“I didn’t even know what the qualifying process was for the World Champs because it’s not something I’d ever thought about,” he says. “I thought: ‘There’s really good guys in this race, I’m not beating them’.
“With about 600m to go I caught a couple of Ethiopian runners and just thought ‘Oh my God’.
“One of them did sprint past me at the end but I was too happy to care. It was crazy. I was in disbelief, really.”
Anonymous to most spectators thanks to the No 1154 on his bib – unlike the elite runners, whose names adorned their chest – Griffiths was only picked up by the TV cameras with around 400m remaining.
While the elite men were immediately shepherded into a tent after crossing the finish line, Griffiths was briefly left to his own devices as he wandered to pick up his bag and collect the same finisher’s medal given to the 40,000 other amateurs who would later complete the race.
“Suddenly these guys came running up to me, said to come with them and before I knew it I was being mic’d up and on the BBC with Gabby Logan,” he recalls.
“I’d arranged to meet my stepdad and brother in a coffee shop until we got the train home but then I was given a police escort back to the river, put on a boat with the elite athletes going to a hotel and told I was needed at a London Marathon presentation that night.
“Because I was competing, I’d packed quite lightly so I didn’t have any clothes to wear.
“The company was amazing – you feel like you shouldn’t really be there.
“Abel Kirui is one side of you, Kenenisa Bekele is the other side and you are sat there wearing your brother’s shorts and a top you bought in the London Marathon Expo thinking ‘what on earth is going on?’”
Weeks away from completing his sports coaching masters degree from Cardiff Metropolitan University, Griffiths knows that his life is about to change drastically as he grapples with suddenly being thrown into the spotlight.
Mostly it will be for the better – he has never had a sponsor and has bought every item of clothing, pair of shoes and energy gel he has ever used. The hunt for a real-life job is also likely to be put on the backburner, having spent the afternoon before the London Marathon searching for employment.
Greater exposure also brings increased scepticism, with dissenters no doubt latching on to the fact that he has never been required to take a doping test, even after last weekend’s race.
He responds by pointing to a steady evolution of personal bests from 5km up to the half-marathon and insists he is happy to be tested at any time, before the strangeness of the situation catches up with him and he adds: “It’s crazy that I’m even in a position to say that.”
These are the realities of his new life. In just a few months he will be back on the streets of London wearing a British vest, and this time it will have his name on it.
“I’m in another world and don’t really know how it works yet,” he says.
“It’s all new. But I’m looking forward to it.”