Monday, 28 April 2014

Married for the Marathon

This time last week I stayed up late to get my name down in the ballot for a London Marathon place next year. I'm glad I did because by the next morning all ballot places were full - that doesn't mean I've got a place of course, only that I've now got a chance of getting one. I helped out in Greenwich Park as a marshal at the start of this year's Marathon, part of crack team of parkrunners loading runners bags on to lorries and dancing to the Village People on a Sunday morning. Having experienced the atmosphere up close I would love to take part as a runner. I know people will go to almost any lengths to run, or even just to get involved in a major Marathon, but how far would you go? Would you get married in order to run in a Marathon, or even just to watch one?

London Marathon Marshal's Medal 2014

Johnny Hayes famously won the Marathon at the 1908 London Olympics. I say famously, though actually it was Dorando Pietri who arguably became most famous. The latter finished first, but was disqualified because he had been helped after collapsing several times near the end of the race from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium. Hayes crossed the line 30 seconds later but was awarded the gold medal. I've always thought history has been unkind to Hayes, Pietri being presented as an unfairly treated underdog when it was Hayes who actually did the business and finished the distance properly.

Anyway the following year Hayes told the following (possibly apocryphal!) story to an audience in New York:

'MARRIED FOR SPORT. John J Hayes, the Marathon champion, was describing in New York the enthusiasm that the Marathon race caused among Americans in London. "That race," said he, "was the chief motive that took us Americans abroad last summer. Indeed, coming back on the boat I heard an almost, incredible story about the race's attraction. "There was a very nice girl aboard who seemed unhappy. Her unhappiness was due to her husband. She was married to a rich but very old man; he might have been her grandfather. "She was a very frank sort of girl., and she confided her marital troubles to one of the women at her table. From her confidence it was plain that the aged husband was a brute. 'But, my dear child,' said the woman, 'whatever induced you to marry such a, man ?" 'Well, you see,' said the girl, 'I was so anxious to see that Marathon race' (Llandudno Advertiser, 10 April 1909).

Johnny Hayes in his Irish American Athletics Club kit,
shortly after winning in London

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