Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Celebs on the run! - written for UK Athletics 05/08

NICOLA BAMFORD explores the world of celebrity runners and discovers that not all famous race-enthusiasts endure distance-running for a purely charitable cause or exposure...

Top spot on the celebrity runner list must go to multiple World snooker Champion, ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan. The 33 year-old Southerner swapped rehabilitation clinics for a pair of running shoes and has never looked back.

O’Sullivan endured a very public battle with depression and addictions, which threatened his promising career from the early age of 17. The snooker supremo turned to fishing, yoga and even flirted with Islam in his search for a settled heart and mind, but ultimately it was the lure of long-distance running that finally helped to battle his demons.

O'Sullivan said: "I've had enough of spending £100 an hour on therapy sessions - I thought I might as well get a pair of trainers. It's the best therapy I've ever had. I wish somebody had told me that 12 years ago."

The World number one subsequently joined Woodford Green and Essex Ladies Athletics Club and continued; "Running is the most important thing I do - it stops me losing the plot, if you like. Even if I do lose the plot, once I go out on a run and do seven or eight miles, it makes things seem a bit rosier."

Earlier in 2008, O’Sullivan turned out for his club and placed a respectable 28th in the Essex cross-country Championships and 189th in the Southern cross-country Championships; begging the question – which sport does he prefer?

"If someone said I'd got a choice between running and snooker, I'd give up snooker tomorrow; I get such a buzz from running. I love it - the mud, the fresh air. I know Epping Forest inside out,” he surprisingly insisted.

"I've played snooker for a long time, it's become a bit of a job. I enjoy it, but it's not the be all and end all. The most important thing for me is my family.”

O’Sullivan’s running coach; former international Maxine Joyce, has set O'Sullivan a tough schedule and explains; “He's keen and he can get down to 35-mins for 10km - faster if he can fit in the training. He says it helps his snooker. You don't need to be fit to play snooker, but it makes the mind fitter."

A close second on the list is world-renowned chef; Gordon Ramsay. The Scottish TV personality has completed no less than four London Marathons (raising money for baby charity, Tommy’s), with a best finishing-time of 3:30.37 in 2004; the year in which he and wife, Tanya raised £14,000 for the cause. Famed for his obsessive perfectionism and short temper, the acclaimed chef aims to tackle 10 marathons in consecutive years.

Ramsay even completed a double-marathon (58-miles) back in 1999 in South Africa in nine hours and explains his motivation behind fitting in his running with such a busy career; “Chefs don't get to sit and eat proper meals during the day - we graze. And that's a very bad way of living and eating. The second reason that I got involved is that I enjoy eating, and by running twice a week, I'm able to keep cooking at that level without putting serious weight on.

I used to feel so guilty seven or eight years ago, waking up on a Sunday morning and watching the winner come through, and then focusing on the next two hours of fun and excitement behind it. Then when it was all over I used to think that I wish I'd done that, rather than lying in bed at 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Now that I run regularly, it's the only time of the week that I get to spend to myself. It sounds crazy, but it can be a great relaxation, and it's a tremendous relief to run two hours on a Sunday.”

The 41 year-old acclaimed chef, who typically runs three times per week, offered some nutritional tips for budding marathon-conquerors; “Four days before the race, it's crucial to cleanse the body and drink lots of water in order to prevent dehydration. Keep it light the night before and don't eat anything fatty - avoid foods like cream and butter. Perhaps a simple risotto with some steamed rice would be good, and lots of spinach - plenty of carbohydrates. Or have something classic with pasta, and make sure it it's laced with some fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil - stay away from items that are very acidic. Also, eat early. Don't eat after nine o'clock.
For the morning of the race obviously avoid any fried foods. I'm obsessed with Special K and skimmed milk. Also stay active; don't think you have to relax too much because that's not good for the muscles.

Next up is Emmerdale duo, Tony Audenshaw and Chris Chittell.
Audenshaw; who plays the soap’s Bob Hope completed the 2008 London Marathon in 3:01.55, whilst Chittle; aka Eric Pollard finished in 4:47.39. Both regularly run in between their time on set and offered their thoughts on the April race – “In one way I was disappointed that I didn’t break three hours – but what’s a second or so between friends. I was running as Tarzan to keep the ‘banana army theme going’ and of course raising lots of money for our charity [leukaemia research]. Yes, I’ll be back next year if the old legs can keep running,” revealed Audenshaw.
60 year-old Chittell added; “It doesn’t get any easier does it. The thought of bringing more awareness to Leukaemia Research brings me back time and again. As for a good time for the run, I honestly can’t get the miles under my belt I would like, so I’m just happy to get round and enjoy myself.”

Another talented distance runner is model, Nell McAndrew. The 34 year-old mother of two registered a superb 3:10.51, when running as a charity runner in the 2005 London marathon; earning herself a place on the ‘elite’ start for the 2006 edition.

However, McAndrew fell pregnant but still managed to master the 2007 event (with her mum), just months after giving birth, in 5:35.43. The former Page 3 girl revealed at the time; “It was just a different race today – I just jogged around and didn’t look for a time, and when you do that, the atmosphere really gives you a lift.”

Three of Britain’s greatest-ever rowers have also graced the roads – five-time Olympic gold-medallist, Steve Redgrave, four-time winner, Matthew Pinsent and double-winner, James Cracknell.

46 year-old Redgrave has ran three London Marathons and raised a record £1,800,000 for charity in the 2006 event.

Pinsent finished the 2006 race in 4 hours and 8 minutes; over an hour behind his rowing team mate Cracknell.

Alistair Campbell was memorably sponsored by the US President George W. Bush to complete the 2003 London marathon in aid of a cancer charity, Leukaemia Research. The former spokesman to past Prime Minister; Tony Blair had supported the charity since a journalist colleague died early of the disease and clocked 3:53.06.

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