The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Marathon Monday

Right now it’s Monday morning. All my social media, blog and news feeds have been filling up all weekend with posts from Boston and articles about the Boston marathon. Me? I’m going back to work for the start of the new term and even though it’s really only been a week since I ran a marathon, I’m still feeling just a teeny weeny bit envious of everyone who will go left on Hereford, right on Boylston today. So this morning I thought I’d bring you a post dedicated to some of the articles I’ve found on the Boston marathon recently. Think of it as a kind of Monday Morning extra edition of Friday Finds for this Marathon Monday…

There’s something special about the Boston marathon, it’s a kind of holy grail of events thanks partly to the need to run a qualifying time (BQ) to get in. But that’s not the only reason it’s such a special race, and in this article from Competitor, Toni Reavis explores some of the reasons why.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into putting on a race like Boston, then this article from Women’s Running might help. It includes stats from the 2016 race that reveal just how much is needed, from the safety pins to the volunteers and everything else in between. Some of the numbers are incredible!

And for the stat fans (like me) this next article reveals some further insights about Boston marathon participants based on data provided by Strava. Given the need for runners to qualify for this race, I would be interested to compare this data to the stats from another race with a more “diverse” field.

This year’s race is particularly special as it marks 50 years since Kathrine Switzer first ran. Pictures of that event have become iconic in representing the fight for women’s inclusion in distance running. This year, Switzer will once more toe the line to celebrate the progress that has been made. If it wasn’t for her, then women like me wouldn’t be able to run marathons today, and that deserves celebration. Here are two articles I’ve come across which cover this pivotal moment:

It might be a little late for those running today, but it’s still interesting to learn a little more about what the elites eat during race week. I know in the days before a marathon I think very carefully about what I consume to make sure I avoid any potential difficulties, but some of these answers might surprise you!

And finally, this year’s male and female winners will find themselves the recipients of a bonus prize. No, not money or a trophy, but a name. That’s right, a name. Two guide dog puppies, expected to be born on Marathon Monday, will be named after the champions. What’s more, it is hoped that the pups will ultimately become running partners for their handlers. I think that’s fantastic.

Good luck to everyone racing in Boston today. Please stop by and share your stories afterwards.
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 21st October

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

I have to begin today with the amazing Ed Whitlock. I’ve heard one or two interviews with him on podcasts and have always been stunned at how well he has continued to run throughout the decades, setting numerous age group records. The reason I’m including him this week is his latest record for the fastest marathon in the men’s 85-89 age group: an unbelievable 3:56:33! The fact that he still runs so well at age 85 is inspiring enough, but when I consider the fact that he is STILL running a faster marathon than I’ve EVER run at less than half his age, I’m overawed. Now I have even more motivation to go for it and get my own sub-4 hour finish!

If I do want to run well for years to come, then perhaps I need to heed the advice of the veteran runners featured in The Guardian this week. Whenever I have any setbacks in my running, I find myself wondering if it’s all over, so it’s inspiring to read of those who found running even later than I did and are still going strong. I’ve spent some time recently thinking about how to structure my training and mulling over nutrition, so I was particularly interested in those elements of each woman’s story. I’ve been eating a lot of avocado this year, so fingers crossed that’s the secret to longevity!

One of my athletic heroes, and one I’ve mentioned on here a few times, is Jessica Ennis-Hill who this week announced her retirement from athletics. I’m disappointed not to see her compete again, but she did hint at this after the Rio Olympics and has made no secret of her desire to develop her family life. I hope she leaves behind her a legacy of inspiring more young girls to take part in sport as she has been such a positive role model in a world of “instagram perfection” and airbrushed, carefully-curated online lives. Of course the retirement of such a high-profile figure in athletics resulted in many articles devoted to Ennis-Hill, one of the best being one written by her coach Tony Minichiello. Here are some of my favourites:

Speaking of women’s sport, one of the pivotal figures in the women’s marathon movement was, of course, Kathrine Switzer. I never tire of the story of her first Boston marathon and how that helped change attitudes to women in endurance sports. I recently heard her interviewed on a podcast and it was fantastic to hear the story in her one words. I know I’ve shared Switzer stories before, but came across this one earlier this week and decided in a week of sharing inspirational athletes, I would share this one too:

And finally, if you’re in need of some inspiration of a more musical nature, why not check out this workout playlist featured in The Guardian a couple of days ago. Whose playlist? Oh, just Barack Obama’s! I’ve spotted a track on there that’s on my playlist too, so I guess we have something in common 😉

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 16th September

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Imagine it’s race day. You’ve trained long and hard for the 26.2 miles ahead of you: early starts, punishing speed workouts and tricky weather conditions. You’re in peak form and feel ready to run a good time and qualify for that mecca of US races, the Boston Marathon. What would it take to derail your plans? Perhaps you pick up an injury along the route; perhaps you fall; perhaps you make an error with your nutrition. The last thing you expect is to be stopped on the course for some time, yet that is exactly what happened to runners in a marathon in Lehigh Valley when a slow moving train crossed the race route. Many runners were halted for around 10 minutes, which had a knock-on effect for their finishing time. As I understand it, Boston organisers have no plans to accept any adjusted times from this race, meaning that many have likely missed out on their chance to qualify for the 2017 race. Knowing how hard people work to get a BQ (or GFA for London), this must be a massive blow. Hopefully the runners affected will have another opportunity to BQ in future.

Meanwhile, the Paralympics have been taking place in Rio with further incredible feats being recorded to add to a fantastic summer of sport. You may have seen headlines around social media declaring that in the men’s T13 1,500m final (an event classified for visually impaired athletes) the top 4 finishers were faster than the gold medal winner in the 2016 Olympic games. Sounds extraordinary, yet why shouldn’t a Paralympic athlete run faster than an Olympic athlete? It all comes down to the field on the day, the tactics employed and the race that unfolds. Martin Fritz Huber, writing in Outside Online, explains further:

Someone else doing well is Ray Matthews. Heard of him? If not, then you should know that 75 year old Matthews just ran 75 marathons in 75 days to raise money for a local school. That’s a phenomenal achievement at any age, however I think my favourite part of his story is that Facebook rejected an ad about the challenge due to it “making claims that are unrealistic or unlikely”. Sounds like a red rag to a bull to me, and what better motivation to spur someone on through their final days of a challenge. Fantastic!

Moving on to calmer pursuits, two stories have caught my eye with regard to yoga. I know I feel less stressed and experience less anxiety since making yoga a regular part of my life this summer, so I was intrigued to learn that yoga can help to calm the fight-or-flight response. Furthermore, the suggestion that learning yoga and meditation in schools would benefit our young people sounds sensible. Our young people seem to find it harder and harder to switch off, to simply “exist” without a device in their hands (and if they do, they spend the whole time worrying about what they’re missing out on!) so any help they can get to “unplug” should be welcomed. It would also be a valuable resource for young people to have access to ahead of exams to help them feel calmer and more receptive to retaining information. It will be interesting to see if such practices are adopted on a wider scale.

And finally, think you know your world cities? Why not put yourself to the test with this fun quiz from The Guardian. Using heat map data from platforms such as Strava, we can see the digital tracks left by runners overlaid on street maps. Can you identify them? I spotted London and Paris, but I think the rest will be guesses since Geography is not my strong point!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 19th August

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

I always feel a little sad as the Olympics draw to a close. It’s been a fantastic fortnight of sport and I’ve really enjoyed watching the best of the best competing. I’m also really pleased to see such a strong performance from Team GB in our first post-London Games, proving that there is a continuing legacy of sport in this country. But away from the incredible performances, personal bests and world records, we’ve also seen a number of moments which really define the Olympic Spirit, and that’s the focus of this week’s post.

One of my favourites comes from the women’s 5000m. In case you missed it, two runners collided during the race. One helped the other to her feet then when they began to run again, realised that she herself was injured. This time the other runner stopped to offer encouragement. Both runners, sporting rivals (and strangers) before the race, finished and hugged in acknowledgement of that shared experience. For me that really embodies the ideals of sportsmanship that should be so important in events like this.

I also liked the story to come from the women’s marathon, however this one has had some mixed reactions. In brief, twins Anna and Lisa Hahner both represented Germany in the event. When they finished in 81st and 82nd place, they crossed the line holding hands, a gesture reminiscent of the inaugural London Marathon when Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen crossed the finish line hand in hand (we also saw this from Paula Radcliffe at the 2015 London Marathon and Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon in the same year). But for the German twins, their finish line moment has been criticised on the grounds that it looks like they didn’t take the race seriously and treated it like a “fun run”. Given that they ran a 2:45 marathon on a hot Rio day, I’m not sure how much “fun” they were having (frankly if you looked at some of my finish line photos from marathons you’d think I had a fantastic time from start to finish, but I know differently!). I’ll never know what the Hahner twins’ true motivation was, some have suggested self-publicity, but I like the idea of them finishing together and sharing the moment.

Another pair of siblings to make the headlines was GB’s triathlon titans Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee. Aside from the fact that four out of the last six Olympic triathlon medals (of any colour) have been won by a member of this same family, the bond between the brothers shines through even in the face of friendly rivalry. Having successfully defended his title, Alistair slumped to the ground soon to be joined by Jonny (who upgraded his bronze in London to a silver in Rio). They clasped hands and simply said, “we did it.” They had been together through much of the race, and it was only towards the end of the run that Alistair pushed ahead to leave Jonny behind. Having watched this pair in other races, I’m certain they always wait for each other to finish, regardless of how long it takes.

Probably one of the most iconic moments of the Rio games happened between two gymnasts. In a time when tensions between many nations are fraught, gymnasts from North and South Korea, countries technically still at war, posed together for a selfie. That moment of unity quickly went viral as an unlikely friendship was forged. Like with the story of D’Agostino and Hamblin, it proves that sport can bring people together in a shared goal, even when competing against each other, much like shaking a rival’s hand at the end of a race to congratulate them on a job well done.

And finally, if all of that is making you want to go out and create your own Olympic moments, then one way to do so might be to run the marathon. Don’t worry, you don’t have to run 26.2 miles all at once, and sadly you’re not guaranteed a trip to Rio, but The Guardian‘s new interactive podcast sounds like a really cool alternative. Simply fire up the podcast on your phone, and head out. As you run, your distance and pace will determine what you hear as you are treated to an audio tour of the Olympic marathon route as well as some information about how Rio got ready for the games and a little bit of marathon-related advice. The men’s marathon takes place on Sunday, so if you have a long run to do then you could almost feel like you’re with them… in spirit anyway!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

US v UK Running Lingo

allison-jessie-w

I’m always intrigued by linguistic differences both within the UK and between other English-speaking countries. I notice this most when I visit Florida, and for the first day or so my dad often reminds me to “speak American” so I can be understood! And it’s not just me. Earlier this week I got an email from my blogger friend Jessie at The Right Fits with an idea about working together on a post looking at some of the differences between US and UK running lingo. Jessie ran the London Marathon this year and her experience there, combined with reading UK-based running blogs like mine, really made her notice differences in the way those in the US talk about running compared to here in the UK. We put our heads together to bring you this post – US v UK Running Lingo: A User Guide!

(You can read Jessie’s version of this post here)

London-Marathon-finisher-2016
PR/PB: Personal Record vs. Personal Best!
Jessie may hear some Americans call it a PB, but generally it seems that PR is the preferred noun to discuss a personal record. PR is even used as a verb: “She PR’ed at Boston!”
Of course PB’s are the lingo in the UK, including as a verb: “She PB’ed in her race!”!

I ran my biggest PB at the Paris Marathon in 2014:IMG_2863

Tank/Vest:
To Jessie, when she thinks of a vest, she thinks of a down winter gilet, not what she calls a tank top. But in the UK, a “vest” is your sleeveless running top: “He was wearing his club vest.”

Sneakers/Trainers:
Jessie says she really loves the term “trainers” and is hoping to bring it to the US! Yet currently, if she mentioned trainers to her friends, they’d think she was talking about a personal trainer who’s helping her with strength training, not the Brooks on her feet!

Gear check/Bag drop:
Runners in the US drop off their post-race stuff at Gear Check. In the UK, it’s Bag Drop!

Packet pickup/Registration:
At the expo, our US friends head to packet pickup ahead of a race. In the UK, you just head to registration.

Boston (and BQ)/London (and GFA = Good For Age):
I commented on this on Jessie’s “What it Means to Run Boston” post that in the UK, Boston isn’t the big deal. Rather, the “big” deal is the London Marathon, and here, you want to run a “Good for Age” time in another marathon in order to get in. In the US, it’s all about the “BQ!”

Bib/Race number:
To non-runners, the term bib probably means something a baby wears when eating in a high chair, but to US runners, the “bib” is what you pin on your “vest” with your race number. I just call it a race number!

jess-p-hoenix

Corral/Pen:
In the US, runners are grouped into starting corrals. Which corral you end up in depends on your qualifying time or your predicted finish time, but in the UK, it’s the starting pen!

Sweatpants/Trackies (tracksuit bottoms):
Chilly before a race? Americans don their sweats. You put on your trackies or trackie bottoms in the UK!

IMG_3062

Portapotty/Portable Toilet:
In this post, Jessie discovered the existence of the female urinal! But even the regular facilities have different lingo- in the US, these are portapotties. We refer to them as portable toilets or portaloos (although this one is a brand name and I know they can be quite protective of it, so let’s stick to portable toilets!).

Spandex/Lycra:
Those tight fitted shorts? Jessie calls them Spandex. I call them Lycra.

Register/sign up for a race, vs. ENTER a race:
In the US, they register for a race or they sign up. In the UK we enter a race!

trackies-sweats

OTHERS:
Since some of my family lives part of the year in Florida, I’ve had the opportunity to run races in the US as well as the UK, like this one last month:

image

I’ve noticed that at almost every race I’ve done in the US, the national anthem is played at the start. There’s nothing like that in the UK, it’s just any announcements from the race director, then you’re on your way.

image

Jessie has also noticed from my blog and from following UK runners on Instagram how huge parkrun is here. When she ran the London Marathon she saw a sign that read “Wave if you love parkrun!” and felt “in the know” about what parkrun was from my blog. While there are some parkruns in the US (currently 6 compared to over 400 in the UK), it’s still very much a new thing and unfamiliar to most, whereas for me the last 5k of a marathon is “just a parkrun to go!”. Where Jessie lives they have Flapjack Friday, which I understand as an early morning run followed by some food. Sounds pretty good to me!

One last difference- Post Race Food:
Jessie found this one really interesting. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a difference in post-race food. I don’t mean in the goody bags [or SWAG bags in the US] but the food laid out. In the UK we really only have food laid out if the race has been organized by a running club and it will likely be sandwiches (using the UK term meaning the filling is between slices of bread) or filled rolls (what Jessie would probably call a “bun”) and home baking (cakes, biscuits [that’s “cookies” in the US, we only call them cookies if they have chocolate chips!], etc) and any fruit is pretty much bananas or maybe apples whereas races I’ve been to in the US lay out a lot of BBQ, potato chips [“crisps” in the UK], pretzels, watermelon, etc.”

Jessie agrees, having noticed this at the London Marathon. The post-race food wasn’t quite as extensive as she sees at US marathons. Though they did have Jack Link’s beef jerky (straight from Northern Wisconsin!) which made her feel a bit more at home!

Huge thanks to Jessie for sharing her thoughts for this post!

If you haven’t started following Jessie, definitely do so! And with the helpful lingo in this post, you’ll actually know what she’s talking about! 😉

You can follow Jessie on BlogLovin and Instagram!

Friday Finds – 22nd April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

It may have been a marathon special on Friday Finds recently, but sandwiched as we are between those behemoths of the spring marathon calendar that are Boston and London, the majority of my reading this week has surrounded those events. These are the two events that really capture the imagination of the public on both sides of the Atlantic (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked in the last few days if I’m running London!) so I thought I’d share a roundup of pieces on those events – a retrospective look at Monday’s 120th Boston Marathon and a preview of Sunday’s 36th London Marathon.

Bostonmarathonlogo

Apart from being the 120th edition of the race, this year’s Boston marathon was also notable for being the 50th anniversary of of Bobbi Gibb’s trailblazing run. At a time when it was thought that women would come to serious harm if they attempted any kind of endurance race, Gibb not only managed to join the start alongside the men (in disguise of course!) but completed the race despite not having access to the kind of training support we would expect now. It’s thanks to pioneers like Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer than female runners like me have the opportunity to take part in marathons now.

Of course, being the first female finisher did not win Gibb the accolades she would receive now. In a rather fitting way to honour that achievement, this year’s female winner Atsede Baysa presented Gibb with the 2016 trophy. A really beautiful gesture, as without Gibb, Baysa would not have had the opportunity to run, let alone win.

If you’re interested in more of the history surrounding the Boston Marathon, then check out this article from Time magazine which explains a bit more about how the race came into existence (and how come it’s so much older than other well-known marathons such as London, Paris or New York).

And it just wouldn’t be Boston without an inspiring photo of a runner being helped across the finish line by fellow runners, strangers until that moment they sacrificed their own finish time to help another in need. You may have seen the viral photo of just such an occurrence this year. Here’s the story behind the photo:

But this year’s most unusual sight was probably Mark Wahlberg dressed as a police officer. In the interests of authenticity, scenes were being filmed for his upcoming movie depicting events in Boston in 2013. I imagine this will be a pretty hard movie to watch for many.

I’d like to finish this section of my post by congratulating my speedy fellow blogger Kyla on her amazing Boston marathon run. Congratulations!

virgin-money-london-marathon-logo

In the same way that Boston is a focal point for the marathon in the USA, London is the big draw in the UK and running reports have been dominated by pre-race speculation and advice all week. It’s a pretty iconic event in the UK and has amassed its fair share of interesting facts over the year:

Probably the most captivating story is that of astronaut Tim Peake who plans to run the marathon on the the International Space Station. A marathon is tough enough on Earth, so I wish him luck completing it with the added challenge of zero gravity and a heavy harness!

Much more commonplace is the plethora of bizarre attempts to enter the Guinness Book of Records for completing the marathon either in a a costume less-than-ideal for endurance running, or whilst undertaking some other incongruous activity like dribbling a ball or knitting a scarf. Hats off to anyone prepared to take on something like this!

Potentially adding to the “character building” nature of the London marathon this year is the news that the weather may be rather damp and wintry. I recall the year I ran being very warm. I do hope the suggestion of snow and sleet is wrong though!

But for those who are taking on London this weekend, here are some tips from BBC Newsbeat. While they take a rather light-hearted look at it all, I have to say much of it is pretty accurate. My top tip is when you arrive at the start, get in the queue for the toilet. After your turn, join the queue again – by the time you get to the front, you’ll be thanking me!

If you’re hoping for a particular time, some interesting statistics gathered from information on Strava:

And finally, those of you in London had better get used to hearing this. 5 years on and it still makes me feel emotional! (In fact, as I was playing the link through to check it, Steve, from the other room, shouted out, “stop crying!”)

If you are running London this weekend, then I wish you the very best of luck. I’m feeling a little envious (not about the weather forecast!) and have been reflecting on my own experience back in 2011. I’d particularly like to give a shout out to the bloggers whose journeys I have been following so good luck to Jessie, Tina, and all the other running bloggers out there. I can’t wait to read your stories.

Scan 1 Scan 2

Friday Finds – 8th April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

With my head still very much in “marathon mode” and the spring marathon season well underway, it seemed appropriate to bring you a “marathon special” on Friday Finds this week. Whether you’re tapering for 26.2 or simply planning to watch a marathon on tv, there are plenty of interesting articles around just now.

First up, an article I shared on social media around this time last year, which was probably part of the growing impetus to begin the Friday Finds feature. Given that most non-runners (if non-magical folk are “muggles”, does that mean non-running folk are “ruggles”?) believe that those of us who run 26.2 miles are mad, I was intrigued to find that research suggests marathon runners might in fact have a greater capacity to learn and remember. In other words, marathon runners are smart! It’s all to do with the bodily processes which help to fuel our runs efficiently also being responsible for improving our memories. Although not, it would seem, our memories of the pain we experience in the last few miles otherwise why would we keep going back for more?

Next up, the rather more controversial topic of marathon pace. While this is another older piece, it tends to resurface every marathon season and stokes the debate a little further. The crux of the debate is whether or not there should be a place in marathons for slower participants, with many arguing that if someone takes longer than 6 hours, then they didn’t really “run” the marathon and their achievement is not worth the same. To me, this is ludicrous. 26.2 miles is a long way, regardless of how long it takes someone to cover the distance, indeed it probably takes a lot more strength and determination to be on the course for 6 hours rather than 3. As far as I’m concerned, if someone completes the course within the individual race’s advertised cut-off time, then they should have the same right as anyone else to wear their medal and T-shirt with pride. I’d love know what you think about this one.

Marathons are increasingly becoming a way for people to raise funds for a charity close to their hearts, and when it comes to events such as the London or New York marathons, running for charity is often the only way to secure a place. But the need to raise funds adds a huge pressure above and beyond the pressures of training, so if you’re fundraising pot is in need of a little boost, here are The Guardian‘s top tips to help you smash your target. From experience, social media is a great way to keep your goals in the forefront of people’s minds, and with regular updates people are more likely to donate, particularly around the weekend of your event. If you’re fundraising this year, then I wish you all the very best.

The difficulty of gaining a place in one of the marathon majors has, it would seem, led to some runners going to extremes in order to take part. The practice of “banditing” the race (i.e. copying someone else’s number and running with it) has been widely reported over the last year or so, particularly around the Boston marathon, and this week another cautionary tale has emerged for those seeking entry to this “holy grail” of marathons. I first came across this story via Jessie at The Right Fits who wrote a post about another blogger named Gia Alvarez. Alvarez qualified for the Boston marathon on two occasions, but was unable to run. Last year, she gave her place to another runner (which I believe is against the rules of this race). When Alvarez tried to use this runner’s finish time to gain a place in this year’s event, she found herself banned FOR LIFE from the Boston marathon. While it may seem extreme, there are rules in place and given the number of people working really hard to get a Boston qualifying time (BQ) there has been a lot of anger around this particular case. It’s always a dilemma when you can’t run and know someone who would love to take your place, but I would always advise checking with the race organisers to see if you can transfer the place. It’s not just about rules, but safety as well, as the details held need to match up to the person running, just in case there should be a medical issue. Again, I’d love to know your thoughts.

And finally, what would you do if you found yourself a little peckish towards the end of your marathon? Take a gel? Maybe have some jelly babies? You probably wouldn’t opt for a burrito and a beer, yet that’s exactly what one runner in the Knoxville marathon chose to do at the 20 mile mark. At first I thought this might be an April fool, but the story wasn’t shared until several days later, so I guess it must be true!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 2nd October

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

The biggest story at the beginning of the week was last Sunday’s Berlin marathon. Berlin is always a highlight on the racing calendar, not just because it’s one of the World Marathon Majors, but because it’s the course most likely to see a new world record set due to its fast and flat route – indeed Dennis Kimetto set the record of 2:02:57 in Berlin last year. This year’s London Marathon winner, Eliud Kipchoge, was the hotly tipped favourite and hopes were high for a new record. While Kipchoge won (in a personal best time of 2:04) Kimetto’s record remained safe for the time being. However the big story is the fact that Kipchoge won despite a shoe malfunction which saw his insoles coming loose! How could that happen? The article below sets out some of the possibilities:

And speaking of Marathon Majors, both Boston and London have also been in the news this week. In Boston, runners are receiving confirmation of their entry and, with an ever-increasing number of applications, running the qualifying time is no longer enough, with the cut-off falling around 2:28 under the mark. Meanwhile in London, the results of ballot entries started to arrive on doormats from the middle of the week. With a record-breaking 247,069 ballot entries, the already slim chances of gaining a place are even slimmer this year, so with that in mind, here’s some sage advice for those considering applying for a charity place:

Another marathon story I enjoyed this week came from Nike, whose latest ad focuses on the final participants on a marathon course. The winners in a race are, deservedly, much-heralded, however the focus on the back-of-the-pack runners reminds us that it takes a great deal of grit and determination to still be out on the course, using up every last ounce of energy to get to the finish long after those winners have packed up and gone home. Running a marathon is not easy, but I firmly believe that anyone who truly wants to complete the classic 26.2 mile distance can do so if they are prepared to make the commitment. As we enter autumn marathon season, that’s something worth remembering.

Another place that exercise for all is being celebrated is in a primary school near Stirling. This Scottish primary school has been in the news a few times in recent months due to its ‘daily mile’ initiative. Every day for the last three and a half years, pupils at the school have headed outside to run or walk a mile in the school grounds. That 15 minutes or so of exercise has had a massive impact with reported improvements in the children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration. Even more interesting is the fact that none of the children at the school are overweight which, in a time of rising obesity levels, is quite remarkable. Other schools around the country are now looking to follow suit and, with such positive results being observed, a team from Stirling university is set to launch a comparative study looking for specific evidence of the physical, cognitive and emotional benefits of the initiative. Yes, these children are essentially doing what children used to do in running around outside, using up energy and keeping healthy, but with decreasing activity levels nowadays, it’s important to recognise the benefits of keeping active at a young age and (re)educating people to that fact.

And finally, with International Podcast Day falling this past Wednesday, this seemed a good time to introduce you to some of my favourite podcasts. This year I have been listening to podcasts during my Sunday long runs and often listen to podcasts in the car as well as I drive home from work each day (in the morning I like to listen to the radio). I tend to listen to running/fitness-related podcasts, and currently have a rotation of 3 that I listen to regularly:

Marathon Talk – Martin Yelling and Tom Williams present a weekly podcast devoted to all things marathon. Often, stories I’ve picked up on for Friday Finds also feature here and there are opportunities for listeners to get involved via the website and social media channels. Good for long runs but beware: can lead to laughing out loud whilst running!

DC Rainmaker – I enjoy reading the DC Rainmaker blog as it indulges some of my great loves: running, Paris and technology. Mainly takes the form of addressing listener questions about assorted sports technology, with a bit go joking around between the hosts to keep things a bit lighter. At around 30 minutes, it’s a great one for the car.

Tough Girl – A more recent discovery for me, but I’m loving this one. Host Sarah Williams talks to inspiring women who have overcome great challenges such as running across Africa, rowing the Atlantic and swimming the Channel. Always inspirational. To catch up on all the episodes, I’ve been listening to this in the car, but it would also be great for a shorter midweek run. I also plan on reading the Tough Girl blog when I have a little time.

Until next Friday!
Happy reading (and listening)
The Running Princess

Boston Strong

Last Sunday I ran a half marathon. Nobody outside of my immediate family knew I was running as I wanted to remove all pressures and just enjoy the race. Despite some challenging weather, I ran well and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Even though on this occasion I knew there would be nobody there to cheer me on, I distinctly remember noting just how many people had braved the buffeting rain and strong wind to line the streets and support all the runners: children with hands outstretched to receive a high five; residents at doorways and garden gates with jelly babies to sustain weary runners; young and old alike at bus stops shouting encouragement at the tops of their voices. It was incredible and I felt jubilant.

On Monday evening I watched in disbelief as bombs ripped into the collective heart of the running community and that same group, the spectators who support us and provide encouragement just when we need it most, experienced unthinkable horror.

I had intended my next post to be a race report on my experiences last Sunday, but as I sat glued to my tv and computer screens to follow, uncomprehendingly, the horrific news from Boston, I realised that I would have to use my blog to try and set out some of my thoughts and feelings. And yet I couldn’t put those thoughts into words.

I felt sick. I felt confused. I felt angry. Why would somebody do this? Over the past few years, running has given me a huge extended family: I read blogs about running, I chat to other runners on social media, I have made new friends though running. Runners are tough but friendly, competitive but inclusive, determined but caring. Being a runner means that wherever we go in the world we have a ready-made connection with others. Being a runner means that we rely on the support of our friends and family both while we train and, crucially, on race day when the sight of a familiar face or the sound of our name being shouted can help us through the toughest of times as our legs feel weary and our spirits are low. Being a runner means that when we saw our sport and our supporters come under attack, we came together as one in defiance of those who sought to tear us apart.

As the week went on I read blogs and tweets posted by a number of runners and each one seemed to capture exactly how I felt: the confusion, the heartache, the inescapable feeling that this was personal. Each one thinking of races they had run and the supporters who had been there to cheer them on. Even as I read them, I still couldn’t find the words to set out how I felt – I’m still not sure that I can and apologise if this post is jumbled and disjointed – but the overarching message was the same: runners would unite in the face of adversity.

Despite my heart breaking at the sport I love coming under attack, I have felt truly humbled this week by the stories of how the running community has come together in support of the city of Boston. I read of runners weary from completing 26.2 miles continuing on to the hospital to give blood; I watched footage of people running towards the site of the blasts to help others in need; I read of runners wearing Boston marathon colours or other race T-shirts in a show of solidarity. Over the past few days runners around the world have shown their strength and resilience: they have stood by Boston, they have helped Boston, they have run for Boston. One oft-repeated quote said it all: if you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.

Today I awoke to the news that the second of the two suspects in this atrocity had been captured. I shared in the rejoicing of the Bostonians whose lives have been forever changed by this unspeakable act of terror at their marathon, yet I cannot forget those scenes of fear and confusion I watched on Monday evening. I cannot forget those for whom the exultation of completing a marathon was changed to horror and anguish in a heartbeat. I will not forget those who were affected the most: those who were lost, those who were injured and those who battled to save lives and bring the perpetrators to justice.

We still don’t know why this happened. Perhaps in the days and weeks to come some answers will emerge; perhaps we’ll never know for sure. One thing we can be sure of is that in a time when individuals seek to instil terror, there is still plenty of good left in the world and if we ever doubt that, we should remember the way the world has come together this week in support of Boston.

Together, we can be Boston Strong.