The London Marathon holds a special place in the hearts of four previous winners of the elite women’s race
Paula Radcliffe, Liz McColgan, Ingrid Kristiansen and Catherina McKiernan – all former winners of the London Marathon – shared their much-loved memories and special connections with the event ahead of this year’s TCS London Marathon on Sunday 23 April.
For three-time London Marathon champion Paula Radcliffe, the event is more than just a race – it has been a treasured part of her life from childhood to the present day. Having set the previous women’s marathon world record of 2:15:25 in London 20 years ago – a record which then went on to stand for an incredible 16 years – Radcliffe believes the London Marathon to be a beloved highlight of the UK sporting calendar.
“It is part of running culture in this country,” she said. “I grew up. I stood by the side of the road and watched Ingrid [Kristiansen] set the world record while waiting for my dad to come past – he was a long time after! Being bitten by the bug of being part of this carnival is so special.
“It is a global coming together of the running community and we are privileged to have that.”
In fact, Kristiansen herself echoes this sentiment. As winner of the London Marathon on four separate occasions during the 1980s, the Norwegian legend of long-distance running has a “great memory” of her time running the streets of London.
Liz McColgan – mother of multiple record-holding running talent Eilish McColgan – also won the London Marathon in 1996. To her, victory at the event was more than just a case of crossing the Finish Line first.
“To be British and to win here is a double whammy, as it is in front of the home crowd,” recalled the Scot. “That emotion is impossible to find elsewhere.”
Catherina McKiernan, too, sees competing at the London Marathon as “a big deal and something to cherish”. Having cemented a win in the elite women’s race in 1998, McKiernan has also held the Irish women’s national record for the marathon since that same year, when she ran 2:22.23 in the 1998 Amsterdam Marathon.
Reflecting on her achievement in London, she said: “I never dreamed when I was running around the fields of wheat on my family farm that I would grow up to compete, let alone win. Running this [the London Marathon] is a big deal and something to cherish.”
Completing a marathon can bring an exceptional sense of accomplishment and reward, and yet the distance is and always will be a challenge, no matter what your ability or level of experience. And so, our four former champions are anticipating edge-of-your-seat style drama from our stacked elite races on Sunday – and offer wise words of encouragement for the thousands more participants set to take on the mass event in the capital.
Looking ahead to the elite showdown, McColgan said: “I expect fireworks and fantastic racing. When you get the opportunity to stand on that Start Line, anything is possible when the gun goes.”
Kristiansen, meanwhile, encouraged our mass participants to avoid feeling the pressure of Marathon Day and instead trust their training, stay serene and fully absorb the uplifting, unmatchable atmosphere of the occasion.
“Go out and believe in your preparation,” she said. “Have fun and don’t push too hard in the beginning!”
As well as being the largest mass event in its history, the 2023 TCS London Marathon will mark the first year that participants could choose to plant a tree rather than receive a finisher’s T-shirt or medal – an initiative born out of a partnership with Trees Not Trees.
Talking about this move to help create an even more sustainable event, Radcliffe said: “There are only a certain number of T-shirts you can fit in the cupboard or medals you can hang somewhere, so planting a tree to make a difference for the future is something we can all get behind.
“We want our children and grandchildren to be able to breathe in clean air and compete in events like this for many years to come.”
And we can’t wait to continue the incredible, ever-evolving London Marathon story this weekend.