So after watching Paula Radcliffe run her final London Marathon last month (in a frankly ridiculous time after her foot surgery three years ago that had her in a mobility scooter worrying that she would never run again) I’ve been thinking about the people who inspire me in my running. It’s not easy for me to whittle it down to just five at this point in time, but that seems like a sensible number so let’s go with it for now.
Since Paula is the inspiration behind this blog post it’s only right that I start with her. Chances are you know as much about Paula as I do, but the thing I love about her is that when you hear her in interviews she seems like the most unassuming, sweet, quiet person you could ever meet, but underneath it all this woman is pure steel and a running legend. How else could she do her London Marathon swansong amongst the muggles (deciding not to run with the “elite” athletes) at age 41 in 2:36:55, finishing in a time that was just 5 minutes slower than the leading British female runner Sonia Samuels? And she called herself “unprepared”. What an absolute machine.
Paula won the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and her 2003 winning time of 2:15:25 remains the world record. The 2015 winner, Tigist Tufa, finished in 2:23:22, 8 minutes off Paula’s record time. So 12 years later, and people still aren’t coming close to beating her. Astounding.
Now if you haven’t heard of the awesome Kathrine Switzer, I’m here to educate you on her brilliance, namely her being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered runner in 1967, 5 years before women were officially allowed to run it. What a badass.
To press the importance of this on you, did you know that as recently as the 1960s, it was claimed that women couldn’t run a distance of 26.2 miles because their uterus might fall out and their (gasp!) legs might get big? Anything over 800m was considered de-feminising, and this gives you an idea of the kind of crap women like Kathrine had to put up with. The women’s marathon didn’t even become part of the Olympic games until 1984, (the men’s featured in the first Olympic games in 1896).
For the 1967 Boston Marathon, the rulebook didn’t state “no women”; it was just assumed that no woman would want to run it. So she signed up as K.V. Switzer, and ran as number 261. As she was running, her “ruse” (if it can even be called that) was discovered, and race official Jock Semple tried to drag her off the course, allegedly shouting “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Her boyfriend, Tom Miller, who was running with her, shoved Semple aside and sent him flying, allowing her to proceed. You can read her full account of the event here.
Kathrine went on to finish the race in 4:20 (her PB is 2:51:37), and spent the next five years alongside other runners convincing the Boston Athletic Association to allow women to participate in the marathon, succeeding in 1972. Most surprisingly, Semple (the angry bald fella in the dark clothing in the photos) had a change of heart, and was instrumental in this formal admission of female runners.
Kathrine published a book called Marathon Woman which went on to win the Billie Award for journalism for its inspiring portrayal of women in sports. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running.
In my opinion, Jo is quite frankly the Queen of showing the kids how it’s done. After 26 years on the track and being an excellent athlete who never quite managed to get to the top of her game on an international stage (although with a hefty national medal haul under her belt), she is now bringing home Gold medals in her early forties, beating women who are literally half her age, at a time when plenty of other women would be winding down their exercise regime as their lives – and indeed their bodies – change.
In 2014, Jo unexpectedly (her words, not mine) won Gold in the 10,000m at the European championships, making her the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 days. Writing for Runner’s World UK, she said “I now find myself looking ahead to 2015 with no thoughts of retirement. It’s pleasing, as I’m enjoying running and there are still things I would like to achieve.” And this is Jo in a nutshell. Humble but determined, knowing that there is a lot of hard work ahead of her but completely prepared for the challenge. This is why I (and many others) voted for her in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I never usually vote for things like that, but she inspired me into picking up the phone for her, and I was so delighted when she came third.
Plus I should add that she’s also a bit of a sugar junkie like me. Not something to be proud of (I’m working on reducing my intake!) but good to know I have something in common with her. Haribo anyone?
Now I’m not going to waste your time or mine telling you about Mo’s amazing London 2012 Olympic successes as part of Super Saturday. That isn’t the reason Mo is on my list. The reason he’s here is because rather than resting on his laurels and saying “yup, I’m the best at the 5,000m and the 10,000, that’ll do” he instead went “NO! I WANT MORE!”. He’s basically the Veruca Salt of running.
So even though he had his naysayers who thought he should stick to what he knows best, Mo decided to focus more on half marathon and marathon distances. Along comes 2014 and in April he finished the London Marathon in eighth place in a time of 2:08.21, setting a new English national record, and then in August he successfully defended his 5,000m title and won a gold in the 10,000m in Zürich at the 2014 European Athletics Championships. Just another major championship double then. Then to cap it all off, in September he won the Great North Run in a personal best time of 1:00:00, exactly. What. A. Legend. I’ll even forgive him those Quorn ads because I like him and actually, I rather like Quorn too. Plus he has the best winning face ever. Fact.
STACY McGIVERN (AKA MY BIG SISTER)
First of all, she’s going to kill me for this, but I provide her with cake so I reckon I can placate her with a hefty wedge of tiffin.
Stacy has been an athlete roughly since the age of 14 or so. I remember when I used to accompany her on Sunday evenings to Comberton Village College Sports Hall to train with George Hibberd, and I would have a bash at the hurdles whilst Stace would nail the high jump on the other side of the hall. She was always willing to have her annoying little sister tag along (basically I wanted to hang out with her and this was the best way despite the fact that I was utterly useless) whilst she did her serious training, becoming an expert across so many disciplines (Triple Jump being her speciality). Her medal haul is ridiculous, and now as a (cough) veteran woman, she is still at the top of her game. This is exhibited by her result in the Cambs County Championships on Saturday afternoon, where after joking that she would at least get a medal as there were only 3 athletes in her 400m race, she went on to beast her opponents, finishing in 61.97 (which was only 2.3 seconds behind the 18 year old won her race).
If you Google Stacy’s name or check her out on the Power of 10 website, you’ll get an idea of how much she’s won over the years (and how many times they’ve spelt her name wrong – there’s no “e” FYI). Last year, she also won the Peterborough Athletic Club Senior Woman award for Field. And on a personal level, having tried 400m and 800m distances myself recently, my respect for Stacy has gone through the roof, because those distances are tough. I just wish I’d done a better job of supporting her in the past, but hopefully I can make up for it now, even if she did say “Oh for God’s sake!” when she saw me turn up to watch her this weekend. I’m going to assume it was a pleasant surprise.
Stacy is one of the most modest athletes you’ll ever meet, and she probably has no idea how much she inspires me (more so than the other four athletes on this list), but I hope I can continue to improve and to share those experiences with her, as we talk about our races, most likely over cake.