8 Aug

How do you become a six star runner?

The six marathon majors medal compendium

Running the Abbott World Marathon Majors is the great sporting challenge open to Olympic champions and recreational runners alike. We tell you how you can be part of something special...

It’s the great contemporary international running challenge. The one that was once a pipe dream for a dedicated few but is now coming within the reach of many club and recreational runners across the UK.

We’re talking about the World Marathon Majors. The great races that attract 40,000 plus fields, hundreds of thousands of spectators and millions of TV and online viewers. Individually Tokyo, London, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons are among the greatest sporting occasions around the globe; combined they represent a daunting but amazing running test.

Close to 3,000 runners have won the right to call themselves ‘six star runners’ and looking over the roll of honour you'll see names from many different countries - Sun Tae Bae, Arthur Horst Jörg Gerschner, Montserrat Maldonado Jiminez, Eleonora Semenovskaya and Kid Van Thienen just to mention a few who had travelled far and wide. None of these guys are superstars, more generally they record times well into four hours and five hours at each race. What makes them special, and all the other ‘six star runners’ too, is a desire to challenge themselves and to discover the world in the process.

Setting off on a six star quest
We spoke to one ‘six star runner’ and he told us a remarkable story of how a one-off race turned into a, "year of living dangerously". Michael Dolan was lucky enough to get a place at the 2016 London Marathon via Phab Kids.

However, he nearly didn’t make it to the start line of his first Major as he recollects: “I got my sponsorship going and my training was on target. Then nine weeks before, I slipped down a couple of steps and hurt my knee. Not the best preparation!”

Michael was committed to run as he didn’t want to let anyone down and was really starting to enjoy his training. On the day of the race, his knee held up as he focused on  finishing and getting the medal.

Post-race he was chatting to another finisher, Stephen Lewis, now a good friend. Stephen asked: “Are you tempted to do the Majors?” Back home, once Michael had googled ‘marathon majors’ he was sold. He decided there and then he was going to attempt to complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors in a year!


British runners at Berlin Marathon

Round two In Berlin
That’s when Michael met Simon! The pair had a lengthy chat when the recent London Marathon finisher called the Sports Tours International offices to find out about marathon packages and, possibly, book a trip to Germany. By the end of the call Michael had signed up for Berlin marathon. Michael said: “Simon and I hit if off straight away. We kept in touch about how my Berlin prep was going and that’s when I decided to add both Chicago and New York to my schedule. My Majors mission was gathering pace.”

Michael travelled to Berlin with wife Catherine where they stayed in an ‘absolutely stunning hotel - the Arcotel’. He enjoyed a smooth run around the course with lots of brilliant landmarks on the route, including though the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

Friendship In the Windy City
Next stop was the American Mid-West and the dramatic lakeside city of Chicago. Chicago is a another fast circuit also noted for the route’s tour of all the city’s districts including Greektown, Pilsen, Little Italy and Chinatown.

Michael loved Chicago: “Again the hotel was fantastic and Sports Tours Rep, Ed Nicol, made the trip super-smooth. I found a great running buddy in the Windy City too - Sarah Hamilton who is someone who has become a real friend. This is something that I wasn’t expecting when I decided to travel to an overseas marathon solo. But you never end up being alone, as there are many other runners in the same situation and that encourages you to make friends. Chicago was another great experience and I loved the  finish at Grant Park.”

Digging deep In NYC
Ironically Michael found New York and Marathon Major No.4 hard work: “I’m diabetic so New York’s early start posed me a few problems. I had to get up early, about 4.30am, so I could have a good breakfast. It’s then on the bus at 7am, but my start wasn’t until 11.35am. Maybe it was my nutrition plan? I’d taken this massive shortbread covered in icing for the race. But as my sugar level dropped I’d already polished it off by half ten. After that it was hard work to keep it going.

“By Central Park, I was struggling. I was ready to pack it in. At that moment I caught sight of a lady who’d had lost one of her legs and was using a blade. She was gritting her teeth and getting on with it. She inspired me to stop feeling sorry for myself and tough it out!”

Tokyo triumph
Tokyo meant a round-trip 12,000 miles and proved, unsurprisingly, the most enigmatic of the six events. Michael enjoyed his trip to the Expo and was pleased that everyone there was so happy to see you: “They are so grateful that you had come to run their marathon. The organisation clap when you arrive and they bow when they hand over your number – strange but delightful.”

Race day arrived and Michael decided on a PB attempt as he was running on his own. However he felt a tap on his shoulder - it was a buddy from Chicago, Helen Garcia, who admitted she wasn’t in the best shape with a shin bone stress fracture and a torn ligament. Helen asked Michael to run with her. Michael accepted and decided that if he could distract her she might even be able to complete the race running the whole way!

They ran along chatting about all sorts and once they’d run out of things to chat about (around mile 21) Michael managed to get hold of a bell. "I then rang this constantly to continue to distract Helen. We reached mile 25 and my, by now, very annoying ringing had worked. She was in pain but would definitely be able to finish! I managed a PB of 4:41:23 and Helen ran the whole way. Result!”

Boston or bust
Michael was now on the home straight, just one World Marathon Major to complete - Boston, the daddy! Michael upped his training after Tokyo. His reward? A swollen knee! Intense physiotherapy kept him roadworthy - just!

Back in the USA for the third time in six months, Michael signed up for the Boston Road Runners route recce bus trip the day before the race. Heartbreak Hill had been a worry but seeing the incline reassured him that he’d be ok.

Boston Marathon was a fantastic finale to a year long adventure for our marathon rookie: “I started at the very back and relished the experience as I ran my own race. Thankfully the knee survived and I knew I’d do it. The finish itself at Boston is brilliant, the best so far. I had mixed feelings as I crossed the line. During the last year, everything was geared towards the Majors. Once I’d crossed the Boston finish line, I realised that my amazing journey was over!”

Michael Dolan after Chicago

For the ultimate Marathon Major package - contact the specialist - Sports Tours International. Full details at their website.