My Six Star Journey with Nicola, Sandra and James
Think running a marathon is crazy? How about running 6 of them, each one in a different country, amongst thousands of others? That's what it takes to complete the Abbott World Majors, which includes the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo Marathons. And don't forget, these marathons are not easy to get into. Some have a lottery system, while others have qualifying times, gaining entry is sometimes more challenging than running the distance.
After the Tokyo marathon this year, there were still under 5,000 six star finishers in the world!
Three of our ambassadors are 1 marathon from completing the 6 world majors, in London this weekend, each earning their coveted six star medal. We chatted with each of them to learn about their experiences during this amazing journey so far!
When did your Six Star journey start? What year? What was your first major?
Nicola: 2015, Chicago.
Sandra: I ran Chicago in 2014. I really had no intention to run the Majors, as I was just a working mom of 5 kids. Running was something I did for "me" time.
James: My first Major was NYC 2016, and I have since run 2017 and 2018 (and will be doing 2019). I would view my journey to the 6 Star is truly beginning in October 2017 in Chicago - that is when the desire really became real.
Why is completing the six world majors special for you?
Nicola: It is the reward for the previous 5. My journey of tenacity & self pride - not giving up even when your body wants & tries to (have had some health stuff in the last 2 years). I'm running London for a charity close to my heart and in my birth country - what's not to love about it being number 6?
Sandra: After finishing the American Majors, my marriage ended. The goal of chasing the Majors never seemed more impossible. It was actually that pivotal moment that I decided to make it possible. I also like to believe that it inspires my children :)
James: It’s one of the few things I have been able to do in my life that is a significant personal achievement, but that has also led to a lot of good for other people. I have run every major (whether I got in through lottery or not) for a charity that means something to me and the people I care about. I have been privileged supported Team For Kids, African Promise, Yamba Malawi and the Organization For Autism Awareness. It feels amazing to be able to earn that medal and know the impact it has had on myself and others.
Which major has been your favourite so far? Why?
Nicola: New York - hence why I ran it twice. 26.2 mile street party. I suspect London might edge it out. Who doesn't want to be passed by an emoji poo during a race. Haha
Sandra: Berlin! I absolutely loved the city! I went into the race with no expectations and had an amazing experience interacting with the crowds. I think because I enjoyed myself so much during the race, I didn't notice how fast I was actually running--and managed to do very well! I even drank a beer while running the last mile! Every second of that race was filled with smiles and happiness. Loved it. I should add that I did love Tokyo, as I was able to enter that race via their International Sub elite program. Wearing my Canada singlet proudly from the front corrals was an incredible experience. Representing my country was phenomenal, it still brings tears to my eyes.
James: They have each been amazing in different ways - PR’s in NYC, Chicago and Berlin, helping pace a good friend through a very tough race in Tokyo, seeing how different cultures come together on race day. All told though NYC, though it is only my adopted home of ten years, still feels like the home race. These are the streets I run daily with my running club - North Brooklyn Runners - and so the crowd support is a huge boost.
Which major was the hardest to get into? Why?
Nicola: London. Despite being a Brit I couldn't apply for GFA and it's known to be one of if not the hardest to get into via lottery.
Sandra: London! They do not have an international good for age program, and their lottery favours UK residents. I ended up going through Marathon Tours, and was lucky enough to get a last minute bib through a cancellation in February. It really changed my race plans for 2019 in the best possible way.
James: Boston is the obvious answer - and with a 3:28 personal best I am still fighting to earn a qualifying time down the line, but the amazing folks at Team For Kids were able to make it happen for me sooner than I ever would have thought! This also goes some way to explaining why I am doing two Marathons in 13 days as my London spot was already locked up!
Got a funny travel story you care to share from one of your world major trips?
Nicola: Having to explain to security why you have a jar of lube in your carry on... every. single. time. I’ve got a few during various races:
Chicago 2015: Crossing the finish line and my legs started to buckle, but yelling at the volunteer edging towards me “don’t touch me” lol. It was totally in the moment. Don’t worry - I apologized and gave them a massive hug once I was across the line.
Boston 2017: there’s an underpass just before the final hill (which feels like a mountain) that leads you onto Boylston. There’s no supporters there and so it’s pretty quiet beyond the sound of people moving. All of a sudden this guy yells out “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” regarding the climb up from the underpass. It was just so spontaneous and somehow innocent that everyone burst out laughing. It was like we were kindred spirits on that final portion of the pain train.
NYC 2017: Having a runner fall asleep on me during the ferry ride to Staten Island.
Berlin 2018: Posing for a post race photo with my dad and he’s holding (and then drinking) the beer I had ran for.
NYC 2018: Running up to a runner struggling and asking her if she needed some help - I was dressed as Wonder Woman, the look on her face was priceless. But we ran together for 5 of the last 6 stopping to stretch her out or walk when she needed (I’m a RMT). Also, people yelling “yay superwoman” when I was very obviously dressed as Wonder Woman
Tokyo 2019: Dancing to the YMCA - it has to be done, and post-race freezing my butt off whilst waiting for the elevator at my hotel, a lady asked me I had ran the marathon. Upon saying yes she firstly bowed at me before wrapping me in her arms and rubbing my back to warm me up.
Sandra: Tokyo was a really big mystery to me. I am directionally challenged at the best of times, and navigating a city that had signage that I was unable to read--oh boy! I got lost many, many, many times in Tokyo! Google translate was my best friend-it provided some very laughable moments. On top of that-the toilets. The have porta-potties at the race in both Eastern and Western styles. Make sure you are in the correct line for the toilet type you are in need of!
James: One of my favorite memories is having about 30 of us from North Brooklyn Runners, cheer squad and runners, meet in a beer garden after the Berlin Marathon. It was an amazing mix of jubilation and people needing piggy backs to get to the bathroom on sore legs! It also ended up in our Uber driver getting in a drag race with another car...
What is your next big goal after this?
Nicola:100 miler in October (health allowing) and Antarctica Marathon in 2020
Sandra: I'm actually going to do a few trail races this year. The Laugavegur Ultra 55k is booked for July. Possibly a 50 miler. I set some really great PB's in 2018, so I am taking 2019 as a year to celebrate and enjoy running for the gift it is.
James: The next goal is to work on improving my times - getting the Majors done so quickly (it will have been 18 months start to finish) has meant that I’ve had to train to leave something in the tank after each race so I can recover faster. I am keen to run a race where I have just one Marathon for the season and truly leave it all out there!
Got any celebration plans for after London? Tell us!
Nicola: My dad is coming to watch me (he previously came to Berlin & my 2nd NYC). We are going to a party organized by the Facebook group World Marathon Major Challenge - have met some great people via that group
Sandra: My son Joel is travelling with me to London. I'm excited to share this experience with him! I also have several other friends finishing their 6 star journey in London, so there will definitely be some pints and burgers!
James: It will be my first ever race in England, the country I grew up... it will actually be only my 4th time ever running in England at all! With that said, the plan is to see family and friends and whole up in a pub for the afternoon and evening with a huge traditional roast dinner and some flat, warm beer!