Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dear Hull Marathon, AKA This Girl Can't

This is an open letter to Hull Marathon. Please feel free to comment, share, Tweet etc if you support my stance.

Dear Hull Marathon,

My name is Claire. I am a 41 year old local woman. I have been running for 2.5 years and I train in all seasons and all weathers, pounding the local streets. In July 2015 I was chosen as a poster girl for the national #This Girl Can campaign.

I'd imagine I would be exactly the type of person you'd want to be included in your marathon, to be held on September 13th of this year. I was very excited when I bought my place, on New Year's Eve last year. The website was a two page site, that was happy to take my money, and had no terms and conditions on (or at least no race cutoff. I'd have noticed that, given my last Marathon took 6hrs and 50 mins, I'm sure.) So I paid, and, a few weeks ago, I started training. On Thursday I hauled my (not insubstantial) ass around 16 miles of Holderness countryside, and I have a date in my diary next week for 17. I've put my hopes, dreams, blood, sweat, tears and money into preparing for your race.

Imagine my surprise to hear that you don't want me to participate. I am too slow! Yes, despite the fact that your website is still allowing people whose estimated completion time is 7 hours + to pay for a place, and there are no terms and conditions listed (these are the 2 pages I look at when booking a race place), it is hidden in Runner Information that I must be able to complete the marathon in six hours or no banana.

And it is quite literally no banana too. You say that, at any point in which I'm deemed to slow by race organisers, I will simply be asked to leave the race. I can become a Pedestrian, which is awfully generous of you, and collect my bags and race mementoes at the end, but you will withdraw marshall support and first aid (and presumably bananas too, and water.)

That's OK. I can bring my own bananas and water. No biggie. Seems a bit, erm, aggressive though.

This bit makes me laugh though. I can assume "Pedestrian status" at the point in which you ask me to leave the race (DISQUALIFY is the word they use, no?) and "at this point you are no longer in the race and can continue at your own risk" (FINE - well, not fine, given that I've paid and all, but...) and then "at this point some parts of the course may be closed to public access." So I can't complete, can I?

I have paid for my place and you are saying that I can't finish. If I have the temerity to take on pedestrian status, as I will, I can assure you, you reserve the right to close a part of the course so I can't finish. You also point out that you will not display my time in the final event results, which feels a bit, you know, like I'm embarrassing to you.

'Hull woman runs slowly' shocker.

Before you tell me this is about road closures and how you don't want people like me AKA "fatties") to inconvenience the general public, let me make two suggestions.

1) You start off the slower runners first. Anyone who is expecting to complete in 6-8 hrs goes first. Hell, it's chip timed, we're not going to win. I bet we'd even stay to the left to let faster runners overtake. We don't want to spoil the event, we want to participate.

2) You allow 6-8 hour runners complete the marathon by running on the paths. It'll only be for the last 10 miles at most. I run on the paths when I train, this is fine with me. I'd like to be included in the official times, though, given that I actually finished. The hare and the tortoise both finished the race.

Now I'd like to put the case for why you should include slower runners.

Running is an awesome sport. Ultimately, you only compete with yourself. It's free! Four years ago I weighed well over 20 stones. I had a chronic illness and I needed crutches to walk. Then I lost eight stones. (I've put on a bit since, given that I'm menopausal and awaiting a hysterectomy, but that's OK, I did not expect my journey to health to be straightforward. I'm still working on it! I've been medically cleared to run too, if that's your next thought.) I am doing OK for where I am on my own journey. Maybe, in a year or two, I will be able to run a sub 6 hour marathon, but, for now, I want to compete. I can run 26.2 miles. I've paid. Please let me.

I've spent many hours racing at the back of the field. Whilst the elite racers give it their all for 2 or 3 hours, we're giving it our all for 7 or 8! Marathon running is an endurance sport. Us slowcoaches are masters of endurance.

We are lively, full of character, supportive. The back of the field really demonstrates the very best about humanity. We encourage each other. We run alongside runners raising money for charities close to their hearts - showing names and photos of deceased friends and relatives, often tragically young. Runners who will endure substantial discomfort in order to raise money to help others.

The back-of-the-pack runners hold stories of amazing personal challenge; weight lost, running despite lack of support, through the jibes of errant children, through injury and disability. Through emotional, social, and psychological barriers as well as the physical ones.

Hull has one of the highest rates of obesity and lowest rates of adults participating regularly in sport. Whilst many of us (myself included) can admire the achievement of the elite runners, it doesn't inspire us to change our own behaviour that much. I'm inspired just as much by the horse that wins the Grand National, as I have an equal chance of being like them. What does inspire others to have a go is someone a bit like them. Someone they can relate to. I think you're missing an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of *all* runners, and the chance to provide a springboard to encourage new runners to have a go too. What a wonderful legacy of the Hull Marathon that would be!

At its bare bones it comes down to an issue of equality (dare I say - discrimination?) The back runners are, disproportionately - older runners, women, new runners, charity runners, those recovering from illness or injury, those with disabilities (obvious and hidden), walkers, run walkers and so on. Are you able, both legally and in good conscience, to exclude these people? Because, if you are, I suggest you make it explicit on the front page of your website (and your Ts and Cs) and stop taking payment from people who estimate they will take over six hours to finish. It's disingenous (and many more things besides.)

This is a public event, supported by the council (who, one might assume, would be compelled to support equality in local events.) I'm not asking to pop round the the race organiser's barbeque and have a bite of his sausage. I want to run in the event I've paid for. If I hadn't noticed the cut off and emailed the race organisers I'd still be none the wiser and would be unexpectedly (and it would be dreadfully humiliating) told on the day that I had to stop.

I have made this point by email and you offered me a refund. I do not want a refund; I am a local runner and I want to run my local marathon, the one I have paid for. I will be turning up, and I will be completing as a pedestrian if necessary. I'll bring my own bananas, water, medal if needs be and I'll run on the path.

This girl most certainly can, and she will. I am sorry if that is inconvenient. I'm not just doing it for myself - I'm making the case for the inclusion of ALL runners who want to be there. 20% of London Marathon runners finished between 5 and 8 hours.

You know what they say - never mess with a woman who runs 26.2 miles for fun. A 14 minute mile is as far as a 9 minute mile. I can endure this.

I'd be very grateful if you would reconsider your stance.

Many thanks

Claire Boynton


  1. Well said Claire this is a case of discrimination and if you have paid you should be able to finish no matter what time you make. And start at the front x

  2. Well said Claire this is a case of discrimination and if you have paid you should be able to finish no matter what time you make. And start at the front x

  3. Hi Claire, I'm sure you have read various responses to your complaint. Quite a few saying you really you have read the website properly before entering. Also that perhaps if you know you are going to 7 hours, then the first ting you should do is contact the race director personally to discuss it with them. These are things to consider for next time.

    I think it's great you want to run, but you must respect the event organisers decisions. My suggestion would be to go out there and be determined to train hard and beat 6 hours. You CAN do that you know. If you are determined. If you really, really want to run....then have a goal....make a commitment to train. Do hill sessions, speed interval sessions, tempo runs and long runs. Go out running 4-5 times a week, like other runners who are determined to improve their times. I'm not saying you haven't worked hard...but work harder. Run a marathon in under 6 hours. Go on. Do it.

    1. Hi Stephen, thanks for taking the time to leave your comments on the blog.

      The reason I have spoken out about it now is because this is the first year the race has been organised. I am hoping that, by speaking out, it will maximise participation. This would also increase profits too. It would also be fairer and is an opportunity to set Hull apart as a city that celebrates the best in everyone - a real festival of running. In 2017 Hull will be City of Culture - why should we not set our standards high? Us slower runners fully admire the achievements of the faster runners; it would be nice if it was felt that that was reciprocated. Having said that, until now I have only ever been met with encouragement, support and celebration by the running community, which is kind of why I wanted to speak out.

      I didn't think I needed to phone the Race Director personally to ask his permission, given that his website gave me the option of choosing "7 hours +" as the time for completion. My point is that the organisers should have been far, far clearer about the cut off. They may have made a mistake - fine, mistakes happen - but they should be contacting everyone who has already signed up and telling them personally what the contingency plan now is.

      I appreciate your support in the last paragraph. I wanted to ask you whatever gave you the impression that I don't train regularly? I'm training at the peak of my ability, just as the faster runners are too. Our effort is the same; our outcome is different. If Mo Farah is a Porsche (in terms of power to weight ratio) then I am a Bentley with an 80cc engine.

      I'm working on it though. I am currently eating clean, running three times a week (one of which is a long run; 18 miles today) and weight training 3 x per week. My current pace is literally a snapshot of where I am on my journey so far, it's not a measure of my effort. When I weighed over 20 stones I couldn't walk to the end of the drive without crutches or a wheelchair, so I'll happily take my 18 miles.

      I reckon, with a good wind, I should be looking at 6hrs 30 mins. Don't want to commit to that, though, as things can go wrong on the day and I might need to walk a bit longer.

      I hope to be sub 6 hours next year.

      Claire x

    2. That should be 800cc. Even I'm not that bad ;o)

  4. Oh my goodness, Claire! That is so not cool of them! I'm a very new runner and I have nothing but good things to say about the running community so far so this really disappoints me.

    I agree absolutely with your belief in and admiration of the runners at back of the pack .....

    What a tremendous, heartfelt and sensible letter!

    I hope they revise their rules and you can go out there and show them what you're made of soon!

  5. Brilliantly written letter!!! It was shared on run to be Facebook group and I shared it on FB and Twiiter. Many people are behind you and hope you get a full apology and full support for the length of the marathon, however long it takes you!!
    Let us know if they see the light and respond.
    Good luck and hope you have a good run.
    Who are they to say how long it should take - are all of them running??
    Best wishes

  6. Right On!!! If they don't proclaim a course cut-off time in those places, then you didn't agree to it in your release. #ParticipantNotPed

  7. As a slow, female, older 'runner' who aspires to running ALL the way round Parkrun I applaud you. Anyone tackling a marathon and all the necessary training should be encouraged. If an organiser has a problem that prevents them taking runners who may take longer than a particular time they should be up front about it.
    Good luck with your training.

  8. You are an inspiration and I am APPALLED about this! I hope that the organisers change their stance

  9. Fantastic blog post and completely agree with all of your sentiments and arguments. You are a strong and inspirational voice for those who run and love it, whatever the pace. I hope the organisers hear and respond.