As if running the London Marathon wasn’t challenge enough, there are more than a handful of people each year who choose to ramp up the pressure just that bit more. Here, we’ve gathered up five of our favourite marathon moments:
Photograph by Katie Chan
Extreme charity fundraiser Lloyd Scott memorably completed the London Marathon course in 2002 wearing a 59 kilogram antique diving suit, complete with copper helmet and lead-lined boots, plodding home in five days, eight hours, 29 minutes and 46 seconds.
The former fireman spent up to 12 hours in the suit each day, covering around 4.8 miles, and says the challenge was every bit as difficult as he’d anticipated: "My boots weighed a ton and I was very top-heavy. My biggest fear was tripping up because I also had very limited vision and couldn’t see kerbs or broken paving stones.
"But the hardest thing was getting started each morning. When I woke up I had to assess my aches and pains to find out what hurt and how much. You cannot imagine how hard it is getting into the cold, wet diving suit with all your muscles still cold."
It wasn’t his first time around the London Marathon course: he also completed it while awaiting a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with leukaemia, “to demonstrate that one can make the most of any situation,” running it in a punchy 3 hours 11 minutes.
Lloyd Scott's post-marathon recovery meal of pie and mash
When the claxon sounded on marathon day in 2016, runners flooded onto the 26.2 mile course and headlong into personal battles. Meanwhile, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, astronaut Tim Peake joined the throng – virtually that is, tethered to a treadmill inside the International Space Station. Three hours, 35 minutes and 21 seconds later, he entered the record books as the first man to complete a marathon in space (though not the first person; that honour goes to Sunita Williams who virtually ran the Boston Marathon back in 2007).
Although Tim has long been a keen runner – he ran the London Marathon in 1999 in a time of 3 hours 18 minutes – weightless conditions bring two complications. The first is the wasting effect on the body: astronauts only bear 70% of the bodyweight that they do on earth, but the body begins to weaken without gravity, damaging muscles and organs.
And then there’s the matter of floating around. In order to stay in contact with the treadmill, Tim had to wear a bungee harness system that puts weight on the hips and shoulders and pulls the body in a way that gravity doesn’t, making the straps rub uncomfortably and sores as much a possibility as the blisters and battered toenails back on Earth.
Astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, equipped with a bungee harness, exercises on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) to be able to run the marathon.
Each year in the wee, small hours, as the competition’s official runners are dreaming of porridge and PBs, a small group of runners amass at London’s Treasury Building on Birdcage Walk – as close to the finish as convenient – for an unofficial, reverse tour of the full marathon route.
Ultrarunner Rich Cranswick started the event and sets participants off in waves at 2am, 3am and 4am, arranging an impromptu water station at the Tower Bridge halfway point. Being informal, roads remain open and runners must navigate pavements and junctions as they navigate the course in the dead of night, arriving at Greenwich Park in the morning just as official race organisers are shutting the roads.
“Despite the fact that you’ve run the forward route, it’s very easy to get lost!” says telecoms consultant Tim Haysom, who has run the reverse route twice. “You can’t run under the Canary Wharf or Blackfriars Tunnels so you have to pick your way around them.”
There’s no medal, no aid stations and no crowds, so what’s the attraction? “You get the [London Marathon] buzz,” says Tim, who has a marathon PB of 3 hours and 29 minutes. “The blue line has already been laid down. When you arrive at the start line all the balloons are up for the start pens, runners are walking up with their bags and numbers… We’ll sit in Costa to warm up and people will come up to question why you’re looking shabby and tired. It’s just fun.”
Reverse Runner Tim Haysom
Photograph by Katie Chan
Regular runners will know that the sport is more than just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. Even so, it’s hard for most of us to imagine running a marathon at the age of 93. Yet, that’s exactly how many candles were on Fauja Singh’s cake when he became the oldest person to participate in the London Marathon in 2004.
Familiar with the pain of endurance racing, he says the reward lies in the satisfaction of a completed race. “I do not see it as putting myself through torture,” he says. “It's more pain than gain, but that pain gives you happiness afterwards. Whatever pain and suffering I've had reaped benefits multiple times.”
More remarkably, he only took up running aged 89, running nine full marathons before hanging up his trainers and retiring from competitive races in February 2013, aged 102. But the lure of competitive racing has proved too strong and, in 2016, Fauja laced up his trainers once again to participate in the Mumbai Marathon, aged 104.
Claire Lomas was paralyzed from the chest down in 2007 when she was thrown off her horse, breaking her neck, back and ribs – injuries that mean most people would never walk again. Not Claire.
Thanks to a £43,000 bionic suit, in 2012 Claire did the seemingly impossible and crossed the finish line of the London Marathon after a gruelling 16-days walking the course.
The ReWalk suit, designed by Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer, works using motion detectors powered by an onboard computer system. “It works by tilting the pelvis for each step – the computer and sensor picks this up,” Claire explains, who affectionately calls the suit ‘Fred’. “I had to get the timing right and that’s difficult when there’s no sensation.
“I had to work hard for every single step out on the course, especially with any uneven pavements, hills and cambers. But, I was determined to complete it. I just broke it down into lots of 50 steps.”
Hundreds came out to cheer her in at the Mall, including Holly Branson, daughter of Richard, who was waiting to present Claire with the Virgin trophy for endurance.
“It was so emotional when she crossed that line,” said Holly. “Tears welled up in my eyes."
Bionic Woman Claire Lomas. To find out more about Claire, visit www.claireschallenge.co.uk
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