Posts Tagged ‘London Marathon’

Big City Marathons

I remember seeing my first ever New York City marathon on TV in 1981. Although I had probably seen Olympic marathons, I don’t think a city marathon had ever been televised before. It was won in that year by Alberto Salazar, and it is the NYC marathon that led Chris Brasher to organise the first ever London marathon, which was held in April 1981. By the mid 1980s, most major cities were hosting marathons. The number of people competing in marathons mushroomed, so that now there are over 500 full marathons organised worldwide.

The daddy of big city marathons is the Boston Marathon. It is the oldest annual marathon race in the World, first run in 1897! The list of winners over the years is like a who’s who of great distance runners. However, because of the nature of the course it cannot be used for world record times. There is too much of an altitude difference between the start and the finish, unlike e.g. London, New York, Chicago or Berlin.

My marathon heros

My three marathon heros are Steve Jones, Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe.

Steve Jones

Steve Jones is the only marathon world record holder Wales has produced, and I have had the honour of running in the same race as him, the Swansea Bay 10k. Not surprisingly, he won the event. But what is remarkable is that he had run and won a 10k race in Bristol that morning! I remember seeing his winning and setting the World record in the 1984 Chicago marathon, and was very proud a Welshman should achieve this.

Steve Jones of Wales, who held the marathon World record in the mid 1980s

Haile Gebrselassie

Haile Gebrselassie is my long distance running hero. He has dominated long distance (5,000 metres and above) running for the two last decades, winning his first World title in 1993. He won the 10,000 metres in the World Championships on 4 successive occasions (1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999), and the Olympic gold in the 10,000 metres on two successive occasions (1996 and 2000). As recently as 2008 he set a marathon World record, in Berlin.

But what I like most about Gebrselassie is that he is so modest. I heard him being interviewed on BBC Radio 5 a week or so after he dropped out of the Berlin marathon last year (2011), suffering from breathing difficulties brought on by his asthma. I was taken aback by his modesty and generosity to his competitors in this interview, a man who has won everything and dominated everyone in long distance running was not even willing to concede that he is one of the all-time greats. He also always seems to have a smile on his face, and from what I understand has ploughed a huge part of the money he has made from running back into helping those worse off in his native Ethiopia.

Haile Gebrselassie

Paula Radcliffe

Anyone who has lived in the Disunited Kingdom in the last 10 years will think of Paula Radcliffe as maybe the best marathon runner Britain has produced. I still vividly remember seeing her win the 10,000 metres in the European Championships in 2002. She completely destroyed the field, winning by nearly a lap. In 2003 she set her remarkable marathon World record of 2h15m25s, a time only she has come anywhere close to beating. Sadly for her, her two Olympic marathons of 2004 and 2008 have been disasterous. In the Athens Olympics of 2004 she dropped out at 36km, probably due to some anti-inflamatory drugs she had been taking in the weeks prior to the race, which hindered food absorption. In the Bejing Olympics of 2008 she came 23rd, her peformance being affected by an injury she had in the weeks leading up to the event. A few months later she won the 2008 NYC marathon, showing that when on form she could still beat pretty much anyone.

I am really keeping my fingers crossed she does will in this year’s Olympics, as it will be a fitting finale to a remarkable running career. In a recent interview on BBC Radio 5, she said that her body could no longer cope with the level of training she did 8-10 years ago, when she set her fastest times. But, she also realises that she would not need to run anywhere close to 2h15m to win in London 2012, so has tailored her training accordingly.

Paula Radcliffe

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This Sunday (27th May) I will be running the Edinburgh marathon. This will only be my second marathon, I ran my other one 30 years ago in 1982! It was the second ever Cardiff marathon. I did obtain a place in the 1983 London marathon, back in the days when it was first come, first served. I queued all night outside the post office in Sloan Square during my first few months at Imperial College.

Unfortunately I did not start the 1983 London marathon, some 6 weeks before hand I developed shin splints, probably due to overtraining. This time around, 30 years on, I have been far more sensible about my training. Apart from my training going off the rails a little during and after my holiday in Cuba, I feel my training has gone well. I’ve done three 20-mile runs, and probably another 4 or 5 runs over 15 miles. I haven’t suffered any injuries, and now with only 5 days to go before the big day I’m getting really excited (and a little nervous).

Obviously, the frequency with which I have done marathons says it all – it is not a distance I like. It is way too far.I much prefer 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. I guess we shall see whether I ever do a 3rd marathon, and if I do whether it will be in another 30 years’ time!

So who do we have to blame for this ridiculously long run of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km)?

We can blame it all on Pheidippidees, a messenger. Legend has it that he ran from the Greek city of Marathon to Athens to announce the victory in battle of the Athenians over the Persians in 490 BC. The legend also says that, upon reaching Athens and announcing the victory, Pheidippides dropped dead of exhaustion.

A painting by Luc-Oliver Merson of Pheidippidees arriving in Athens to tell of the Athenian victory over the Persians in Marathon

When the Modern Olympics were revived in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the distance from Marathon to Athens was measured at approximately 25 miles (40 km). The marathon at the 1896 Olympics was won by Spiridon (sometimes spelled Spyridon) Louis (appropriately of Greece) in a time of 2h58m50s. By today’s standards this is a pretty slow time, but it may not have been helped by Louis apparently being fuelled along the way by wine, beer, milk, orange juice and even an Easter egg!

Spiridon Louis, who won the marathon in the 1st ever modern Olympics, of 1896

Tomorrow I will give the story behind the marathon’s distance being increased to the now standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards.

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