My Running Story – Jo F

My World Marathon Major journey (with a little help from The Jam, The Rolling Stones and Kenny Loggins)

By Jo F. 

Years ago I used to watch coverage of Paula Radcliffe running cross country races on BBC’s Grandstand whilst I lay on the sofa eating cake (I love cake). Fast forward several years – and I still found myself eating cake on the sofa glued to the TV watching Paula, but by this time she was venturing into the world of running marathons.

I needed to do something to steer myself away from the cake.

Paula’s awesome marathon running had inspired me so I went out for a run one dark, damp evening. I managed 5 minutes at first, then a few days later, 10 minutes. I got bored on my own and quite frankly would have given up altogether had I not made the decision to join my local running club. The club was perfect for me, it welcomed everyone regardless of ability (very much like Shrewton RC) and we could all run together. 

It didn’t take long to realise that I had well and truly caught the running bug and within a year started tagging along with the group that were training for the New York City Marathon. Everyone was so encouraging. Intrigued, I did a bit of research on the New York marathon and learnt that it is one of the 6* World Marathon Majors. In an instant, there it was, a goal for the next few years…..

To complete all 6 WMM.

I read every book on marathon running I could get my hands on and picked up a few useful tips along the way. An experienced marathon runner gave me some really basic, but great advice – he told me I should choose a handful of ‘uplifting’ songs to listen to before a long training run or a race. I can’t remember how I came about choosing mine but I still listen to my songs before long runs or races. They aren’t necessarily what some people may consider uplifting but they do it for me and work well with my pace. 

My playlist –

  • A Town Called Malice  – The Jam
  • Sympathy For The Devil  -The Rolling Stones
  • Footloose – Kenny Loggins (ashamed and embarrassing, yes…I know,  but it helps!)   

I trained hard and put the miles and hours in. Before I knew it I was stood on the start line in New York, the first of my Majors. 

It was an amazing race with the finest and most spectacular marathon start I’ve ever experienced, running over Staten Island Bridge to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ belting out. However I could still just about hear ‘A Town Called Malice’ ringing in my ears as I’d been playing it on repeat since the 4 am alarm call that morning. It was an unforgettable race running through all 5 of New York’s Boroughs, listening to brilliant bands along the way – I loved it all, even the fact that they printed the final results in the New York Times – probably the only time I’ll have my name printed in that newspaper! 

NYThe New York Times 1 / 6

Next was London. It was HOT, HOT, HOT that day and by mile 22 along the Embankment I was struggling, but I was aware that Sally Gunnell – ex Olympic hurdler was close by so I dug in, recalled the quote, ‘Learn to run when feeling the pain, then push harder’ – Somehow I achieved my 3 hour 30 mins PB. Happy days.

Berlin was third on my Majors list. Training had gone well and I was feeling positive but once we arrived in Berlin and our luggage didn’t appear on the carousel at the airport – my heart sank. They had no idea where it was and I had the marathon to run the very next day – all I had were the clothes I travelled in.

Concerned, I made my way to the marathon expo and spent about £300 on over priced running gear. Obviously all the kit was brand new and I hadn’t the time to ‘wear’ it in. I knew this could potentially cause a problem during the race.

It was also in Berlin that I nearly missed the race start (entirely my fault) simply because I hadn’t quite finished listening to Kenny Loggins. I wanted to finish Footloose and then check my iPod on to the baggage lorry. I made the line with seconds to spare. That day Kenny’s Footloose helped me run through the streets of Berlin in my shiny new clothing. Every part of my body was sore / blistered / bruised as I crossed the finish line under the Brandenburg Gate. It was such a wonderful trip though. The luggage was returned to me a week after I returned home. It had been in Texas. I sold the new kit (washed!) on eBay.

Chicago was the next destination. So excited for this one, it lived up to all the hype. Whilst on the start line, they played some great music including ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. I couldn’t believe it – PERFECT! I knew it was going to be a good race – and it was – the spectators were second to none.

ChicagoChicago 4 / 6

I flew East to Tokyo for the following marathon. A bonkers place, but a good bonkers. A challenging course, but we were helped along the way by the fantastic organisers, marshals and volunteers. When we were handed drinks at the fuel stations they bowed as they did so. I was too exhausted to bow back. A unique and crazy race but I enjoyed every minute. 

Boston was the final one of the set of 6. The oldest annual marathon and the icing on the delicious cake for me. On the day of the race, at stupid o’clock, we were all bussed out to Hopkinton, the start of the race. I sat next to a chatty journalist who wrote articles for Runner’s World magazine. She asked ‘Why Boston?’ I told her and she ended up writing a short piece for the magazine on my story completing the WMM. It included a shocking photo of me – in order to keep warm before the start, I was wearing a green bin bag plus an old pair of threadbare socks on my hands. Thankfully, I no longer have evidence of this. 

BostonBoston 6 / 6

I now have the 6* WMM medal. Very bling but it takes pride of place…in a tin under my bed. Chuffed to bits I have it though. 

6* WMM6* WMM

It took me 8 years to complete them because at times life got in the way but it was well worth the wait. 

Besides those 6, I’ve run other marathons and each holds a special / happy / funny memory for me whether it be whilst training with the club leading up to the race, or the marathon itself running alongside great friends. 

When I ran in La Rochelle as I crossed the finish line I was presented with a huge basket of oysters. I had nothing left in me, I was spent and I very much dislike the smell of fish or seafood so I immediately threw up all over the volunteer and the oysters!

Florence and Rome were beautiful destination marathons, they staged magnificent pasta parties and served delicious ice cream afterwards.

When I ran in Vienna I was asked to be a flag bearer for Kazakhstan! The Kazakh runner in the race was injured and was unable to fulfil his duties. I was stopped in the street and asked to take part in the opening ceremony and carry the Kazakh flag. I reluctantly agreed. Little did I know that the ceremony would go on for about 4 hours and televised to the Austrian nation. 

KazakhJo F – Kazakh flag bearer

Whilst running in Zurich, we ran past Tina Turner’s house at around the 13 / 14 mile mark. She was there on the balcony waving at the runners. She was ‘Simply The Best’. Sorry, had to be done…

Very happy times indeed and it all began when I joined my local club years before.

I plan to run more marathons… in fact I unexpectedly got a place transferred to me from a friend who was set to run one this coming Saturday. I’ve accepted the challenge and have nerves and excitement in equal measure. It will be my first time running for my new club, Shrewton. It’s off-road and hilly, I have a lack of miles in my legs and no time for a decent taper but I’ll give it my best shot. My aim is to finish before the sweeper van scoops me up and says I need to call it a day. I’ll bake a cake before the weekend so if I do manage to complete then I’ll lie on the sofa and eat it – though obviously I’ll not be watching Grandstand this time. 

I will no longer aim for PBs or medals, just the adventures, joy, memories and freedom that running gives. I hope to experience this all with my new club in Shrewton. 

Jo F Jo F