|Rocket Ronnie leads the way . . .|
Celebs often look completely different when exhausted and drenched in sweat, and therefore can pass largely unnoticed by spectators and fellow runners. For some of them, that's exactly how they like it.
Below is my own Top Ten list of running celebrities, some of whom I’ve spotted in action, a couple I’ve even managed to overtake, and some who have probably passed me too!
6. Dr. Alan Turing
1. Ronnie O’SullivanThe man hailed the most naturally-gifted snooker player in history admits he enjoys running more than his main sport - even though he’s been world champ five times. But Rocket Ronnie from Chigwell is no fun-runner. His victories include a five-miler in Epping and last year’s Lactic Rush adventure race. He’s also chalked up several high finishes in cross-country, including the murderous Essex championship race in Basildon, and boasts a road PB at 10k of 34:54. He gets his stamina from his Italian-born mum, who last year walked 192 miles for charity.
2. Nell McAndrewI’m not entirely sure why Nell (real name Tracey) is actually a celebrity. This former Leeds bank clerk looks a lot like Marilyn Monroe, so that could be something to do with it. But there’s no doubting her running ability. She’s proved her mettle over a number of years and in 2012 improved to a sensational 1:21.53 at the Bath Half-Marathon, followed by 2.54.39 at the Virgin London Marathon. There’s more to Nell than just good looks.
3. Paolo di CanioThe mad ex-footballer doesn’t do anything by halves. After a colourful career that included knocking referees over, Paolo last year ran the Swindon Half-Marathon by mistake! The volatile Italian went along as official starter of the race and after firing the pistol headed off to join the two-mile fun-run for kids and beginners. However, after taking a wrong turn, he ended up running the entire 13.1 miles, wearing the heavy kit of Swindon Town FC, whom he now manages. Despite the cock-up, he managed an impressive 1:49 without stopping once. Two other footballers deserve recognition: Former Exeter City man Barry McConnell embarked on a charity run from John O'Groats to Lands End last year, with a fine marathon PB of 2:58 already under his belt. Sadly severe knee pain forced him to quit after 126 miles, near Inverness. Meanwhile, former Real Madrid and Barcelona star Luis Enrique – who beat the 3-hour mark at the Florence Marathon - had a successful crack at the vicious Marathon des Sables (151 miles across the desert) and is now said to be training for a 400 mile mountain bike epic.
4. Graham GoochCricket legend Goochie wins his place in my top ten – not for his batting ability or a successful hair transplant, but due to the fact that he is a ‘real’ runner. Over the years, he has quietly and without fuss entered all manner of races and fun-runs around Essex, enjoying some very respectable middle-of-the-pack performances. He’s a big bloke and perhaps not a natural distance-runner, but his attitude and work ethic couldn’t fail to impress. In his playing days he would often be seen training in Chelmsford’s Central Park, sometimes with reluctant teammates trailing behind.
5. Chris BoardmanThe best running displays by any cyclist are probably those of the disgraced Lance Armstrong (e.g. 2:46 at the New York Marathon), but in the light of recent events we can’t be sure exactly how they were achieved. Therefore, Chris Boardman MBE sails past Lance thanks largely to his splendid 3:19.27 at the 2009 London Marathon, achieved only months after he was diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. It forced him out of cycling and is a condition normally afflicting middle-aged woman, but Chris tackled the problem full-on, saying: “Cycling is good for strengthening muscles, but does very little for bones. I need high-impact activity to strengthen my skeleton, so I run about 30 miles a week instead.”
6. Dr. Alan Turing
The brainbox mathematician, celebrated as the founder of computer science and for his wartime heroics breaking the Enigma code, was also a brilliant runner. It was his escape from the stresses of work and of being gay in an era when such a thing was simply not accepted or tolerated. Turing would storm down country lanes like a rampant buffalo, eventually being enticed to join local club Walton AC soon after the war. He was ranked in Britain’s top ten and fell not far short of Olympic selection. At the 1947 AAA marathon at Loughborough he ran 2:46 to finish fifth and regularly ran six miles under 34 minutes.
7. Alastair CampbellThe spin doctor and Burnley supporter is included to represent those politicians who take their running seriously. Although he couldn’t quite match the marathon time of 3:44.52 achieved by George Dubya Bush (Houston, 1993), Campbell gets the vote for overcoming the handicap of a body clearly not designed for distance work. He finished the 2003 London Marathon in 3:53.45 which, among other things, beats the 3:59.36 by US politician Sarah Palin at the amusingly-named Humpy’s Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.
8. Joe StrummerPunk icon and main man in The Clash, Strummer could well be the unlikeliest marathon hero of our times. Back in 1982 he disappeared to Paris where he grew a beard and lived anonymously. Later, Strummer would claim he’d competed in the Paris Marathon with his girlfriend during this time (Your Clapped-Out Runner has raced in Paris and can confirm a degree of chaos and cheating is usually involved in mass participation events in this city!). Strummer said he didn’t do any training, apart from downing ten pints the night before the race and not running a single step in the four-week build-up. He urged fans not to try this method, as it would only work for him and the writer Hunter Thompson. His girlfriend came last in Paris, while Joe’s time and position remain unknown, although he would later be credited with a highly respectable 3:20 at the London Marathon of 1983 (allegedly).
9. Hugh LaurieThe talented and mega-rich actor wins a place in my top ten thanks mostly to the fact that I bumped into him (almost literally) when we were both on training runs in a chilly Regent’s Park a while ago. Hugh is an extremely big fellow and his progress was not quick by any stretch of the imagination. As we passed, our eyes met and he gave a weary flick of the eyebrows as if to say “Hard work isn’t it?” I thought about answering in the manner of Stephen Fry, but thankfully didn’t. Hugh has inherited stamina from a father who was a champion rower, but a speed merchant he is not. But he gets out and runs often, and told one interviewer: “I run six-to-eight miles a day, plus weights and aerobics in the lunch hour. I also lie a lot, which keeps me thin.”
10. Bjorn Ulvaeus of AbbaSome celebs exaggerate their running exploits, some tell blatant porkies. But when Bjorn from Abba (the one with the chubby, non-bearded face) claims he did a marathon in 3:23.54 he’s not fibbing. There’s documentary and photographic evidence to prove it. Wearing headband and short dark socks, Bjorn cruised the 1980 Stockholm Marathon. Apparently he was persuaded to take part by insistent race sponsors Nike. Super Trouper indeed.
* Rob Hadgraft’s five books on running are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each. Use this link: Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon