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Paul pounds out a record
9:30am Friday 27th July 2012 in Features
As world records are set to tumble in London, a York man is about to book his own place in history. MATT CLARK went to meet him
TODAY the world’s great athletes begin their quest for Olympic gold, but while they do so Paul Sigsworth will be pounding the streets of York in his bid for rather different medal glory.
Paul, from Tollerton, is a runner and he’s training for the Berlin Marathon in September. It’s one of the five World Marathon Majors and when Paul passes the finishing line he will become only the sixth Brit to complete them all.
They are huge events typically attracting 30,000 to 50,000 runners including all the marathon greats.
“That’s the great thing about them,” says Paul. “I can’t think of another sport where you get fun runners rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite.”
His marathon career began with the Great North Run.
“I was hopeless at sport at school and got into running as an adult. Then I decided to try a half marathon and began wondering if I was up to a full marathon.
“I thought if I’m going to do one, let’s do it somewhere special.”
So in 2006 Paul signed up for the Chicago marathon. He didn’t realise it at the time, but his time was good enough for automatic qualification to the next major in Boston, Massachusetts – the world’s oldest and toughest.
Well, he thought, why not?
The run dates to 1897 and is held on Patriots’ Day, a holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War which in the 1800s was only recognized in Massachusetts and Maine.
“Boston is very serious, you don’t see any gorillas or bananas and it’s a harder course but it really was very special.”
Paul says there’s a lot of fear in the running world concerning Boston and rightly so. It starts nicely enough, with a gentle down slope for a few miles, then the middle bit is flat. But at around 16 miles it starts getting hilly; very hilly. And that sorts the men from the boys.
“There is one called Heartbreak Hill and if you are going to come apart that’s where it happens.”
It was around lunchtime when Paul made Heartbreak Hill. It was hot and the waft of barbequed burgers from crowds lining the hill didn’t help his tired, hungry body, nor did the offer of an ice-cold beer. Pure torture, Paul calls it, but he carried on and finished well.
“Having done two I’d learned how to train, I’d got the recipe. It’s an art form, getting everything properly balanced with not too much of this or too little of that.
“So I got thinking there are these five marathon majors, I’ll do the lot and raise some money for cancer charities.”
This is another passion. Paul does a day a week at the Marie Curie York office, the rest of his time is spent running an innovations business.
Evenings are normally family time, but not at the moment. Paul is busy training for the Berlin marathon on September 30 and he aims to beat the average of the five other Brits at three hours 37 minutes.
“After Chicago I’d proven to myself that I had the tenacity to keep going. We can all run and it doesn’t really take much training to do 10k, but once you get beyond 16 miles it’s not in the body, it’s all in the head.”
That’s where cheering crowds help, as long as they are not offering beer and burgers.
The New York Marathon was a good example. Paul says he’s never hit the famous mental wall, but when his legs were starting to give way, the buzz from a sea of spectators gave him the strength to call on his last reserves of energy.
“It’s a noisy city and a noisy marathon. During the last seven miles having a crowd shouting you on really does make a difference. It also makes me think of those who have sponsored me.”
Paul’s training begins 16 weeks before a marathon and he runs six days a week in a combination of long and short distances. “The peak age for marathon runners is mid-thirties, but I’m 55 now and it’s harder as you get older.
“I just want to do as well as I can. A marathon is not a race it’s a statement, a mile run 26 times. I suppose I’m racing against myself.
“There is also a nutrition side to it. You eat more in total and more carbohydrates. But you can also eat cake because you burn it off.”
So that’s why he does it.
Paul’s goal was to run all five of the marathon majors and in doing so he has so far raised £12,000 for cancer charities. Now he is about to achieve his aim in Berlin, the largest, flattest and fastest marathon of all.
So will he be hanging up his trainers?
“Never say never, but this will be mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. Recently I discovered that only 53 people had completed all the majors and only five of those are British, so that in itself is very satisfying.”
Indeed if you add the elite runners, of which there are around 40, only 100 people worldwide have the honour of all five medals. But Paul says none of them are marathon heroes.
“For me it’s the ones who are doing it for the first time, who take six hours and it’s hurting. They’re raising loads of money and proving if you want to, you can.”
• Paul will be running the Berlin Marathon on September 30 to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. You can sponsor him at justgiving.com/sigsworthpaul
• The World Marathon Majors series of international marathons was launched in January 2006 and brings together the world’s big five premier city marathons, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
The winner of each race earns 25 points, with 15 going to second place, 10 to third, five to fourth and one to fifth. Each series, the ovverall winner gets a prize of $1 million.
To qualify for the prize, runners must complete at least three races over the two years of a series, with a maximum of four scoring races counting towards their points total. They must also finish at least one qualifying race.
The World Marathon Majors Series is the first grand prix or grand slam for marathon running and is designed to elevate marathon running in the public’s eyes by focussing the world’s best marathon runners on the world’s best marathons.
Each of the five races boasts an international elite field for both men and women has a mass field competing on the same course.
Collectively, the group annually attracts more than five million on-course spectators, more than 250 million television viewers, 300,000 applicants and 150,000 participants. The races also raise more than $100 million for charity and have an economic impact on their cities of around $400 million.