Interview with Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher: Marcus Brown
In 2016, the Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) began recognizing non-elite runners with a certificate and six star medal for those who competed and finished in each of the six world major marathons: Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. To date, there are over 1000 finishers from over 30 different countries. Today we talk with one of them: Marcus Brown. A runner, husband, new dad, and AWMM six star finisher.
Can you give us a brief history of your background?
I was born and reside in London. Outside of running, I have a regular job, wearing a suit and tie. But the thing I enjoy the most is spending time with my wife and daughter.
When and why did you start running? How did you become a long distance runner?
My running journey started with a friend, who started running during university and he tried to get me to run with him. He wasn’t successful at first but he was persistent and eventually I ran out of excuses and signed up for a 10k. The training was really tough but after crossing the finish line I was hooked. I felt a massive sense of achievement. Then I ran other events until I built my confidence to run my first marathon in 2008.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I started documenting my running on social media, the reason is naturally I’m a reserved and quiet person in private, but I believe that you need to push your comfort zones to grow, so I put myself out there on social media in an open and honest way regarding my running and training.
Since then I’ve mainly used my Instagram profile @themarathonmarcus and my blog, Marathon Marcus, as a log of my running journey and race travels along the way, as I work towards advocating the balance of a sound mind and sound body.
Along the way, I became an ambassador for ASICS which is cool, as I’m around other people passionate about running.
When did you learn about the World Majors and what made you decide to pursue them?
I ran my first majors in 2010 which was London and Berlin. When I entered Berlin it was first come, first serve, which you can’t do for any of the majors now, as they are so popular.
Whilst I was aware of the other majors, I wasn’t that interested in running them. At the time the six star medal didn’t exist, and only came into existence following the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.
To be honest it wasn’t about the medal that got me started on the six star journey. It was a conversation I had in 2016 with a friend who would ran the New York City Marathon, and the way she described it just seemed absolutely amazing. Up until that point, I always told myself subconsciously that I couldn’t run the other Major Marathons, as I didn’t see myself as a proper runner at the time.
But seeing my friend do it, made it more real, and not so out of my reach. It was seeing someone complete something that I once thought was unattainable, made me face and question my own limiting beliefs about whether I was a runner, which made me determined to enter the New York City Marathon.
Which I did in 2016. I loved it and then the journey to earn the six star journey began.
When did you complete each of the majors? Which did you like the least, best?
So it’s been an eight-year journey. I ran London in 2010, 2015 and 2018. Berlin in 2010, New York Marathon in 2016. In 2017 I ran the Tokyo and Chicago Marathons. Finishing off with the iconic Boston Marathon in 2018.
Which is my best…It’s like choosing which is your favourite child! I enjoyed each marathon, as they all taught me something about myself. Either through the tough or the better moments, I learned something.
There are so many great points to note.
Tokyo, as you would expect, was efficient and just so clean. I don’t really recall seeing any rubbish on the ground because the stewards just kept the course so clean and another interesting point was seeing the actual police officers running the marathon as well! Bar the marathon it’s an incredible country and I’d love to see more of the country and run it again.
Berlin has a great course it’s fast, flat and wide. However, I would like to go back and re-run it as it’s the fastest of the six courses.
London as it’s my home city, it’s a great point to point marathon, you see all the sites, and the crowds are incredible from the start to the finish line.
- Marcus Finishing the London Marathon
All US marathons are well organized and the energy from the crowds is on another level. Even in the torrential rain in Boston the crowd support was just amazing and gave me such a boost.
NYC is special because it kickstarted the six star journey. A great memory from the race was running through the five boroughs. The experience was like a city-wide block party.
But for the finale race, Boston 2018 was truly incredible, the weather was atrocious, as soon as I left the hotel, I knew it wasn’t going to be about thriving, but just surviving to the finish. My clothes were soaked and my teeth were chattering when I left Hopkinton. Entering the marathon I had a knee injury which I was managing through reduced mileage, strengthening work, etc.
So before the race, I was mentally preparing myself for different scenarios come race day from running it all, to my knee injury getting worse, from having to walk from the rest. Not finishing was not an option. From about halfway my knee started giving me problems especially on hills, which limited my running stride to the end. Fast forward to a right on Hereford and left on Boylston, and to cross the finish line is one of my top running highlights. To cross the line just felt just incredible. All finishers definitely earned the medal that day.
All things considered with the weather and my knee, I’m happy with finishing it in 3:28:40.
What was the most difficult part of the journey in pursuing the majors?
The travel from London to Japan really wiped me out for the marathon. If I had my time again I would have gone out there much earlier to acclimatize.
The 2017 Tokyo Marathon taught me to respect the impact of jet lag on my race, which is typically worse when traveling eastwards, as it requires you to fall asleep hours earlier than your body wants to. Whereas traveling westwards is easier to adapt to, as you’d be going to sleep later than normal.
If I could advise anyone doing the same, essentially you want to be as alert as possible come race day, as traveling impacts your body clock, reducing your alertness, thus increasing your fatigue levels. In the days before your departure be mindful to try this tip. When traveling east, go to bed and get up gradually earlier several days before your travel. When traveling west, do the opposite, go to bed and get up later.
Why was it important to you to obtain the six star medal?
For me, it wasn’t about the medal. The challenge represented something deeper, which was working towards a big goal that challenged my limiting beliefs about what I could do.
As you can appreciate, the person you were eight years ago is different from the person you are now. A lot had happened in my own life, and there were moments in those eight years where the six star finish didn’t seem attainable.
For the final race in Boston, the weather conditions were -0°C temperatures headwinds, torrential rain throughout. For this marathon, I had to block everything out and focus on the essentials. I had to embrace being physically and mentally uncomfortable throughout, and focus on just putting one foot in front of the other. I remember being so focused on this point, that for large sections of the race I just zoned out all off the crowd support etc.
It wasn’t until crossed the line, received my medals, and started an interview for the AWMM film crew, then the question from the interviewer that really struck home was “What did you just accomplish today?” That question snapped me out of the survival mindset and made me tap into the highs and lows of the eight-year journey.
It was an honest account, and there were some tears shed. You can see the video here or on my Instagram account. I was really proud and happy that the journey had shown me that we can be greater than the limiting self-beliefs which we are told, or believe about ourselves.
What advice do you have for other aspiring six start finishers?
It’s a lot of fun so I’d say do it!
If you can, do make a holiday out of it and spend some time exploring the city and countries post marathon when you’re more relaxed. My biggest regret is not spending more time in Japan for in the Tokyo marathon as it’s a stunning country.
But one of the best lessons it’s taught me is whilst running can be seen as a solo sport, this isn’t true. When I landed in Boston, I’ve never experienced anything like it, the whole city is behind the marathon and it’s palpable in the build up.
Although I’m not religious, one of my favorite experiences was attending the Old South Church on Boylston Street, also known as the church at the finish line, for the Sunday “blessing of the athletes” service. It was five years post the bombing, and it featured Carlos Arredondo who became a big symbol for his efforts to help save lives. Combined with the sermon from Rev. Nancy Taylor which captured the mood of the anniversary but gave hope for all the runners. It felt like the whole city was running with every runner in spirit, which made it such a great finish to my six star journey.
What’s next for you?
Marathon wise this year I’m going back to run the New York City Marathon because it was the real start of my six star journey. Next year I’m planning to run the Manchester Marathon as it’s generally perfect weather for a marathon, and is relatively flat and fast. Following that, I’m planning to run the 2019 Big Sur Marathon as it’s one of the races on my running wish list.
But my underlying running motivation is about enjoying the journey, laugh often, and to keep working to be the best runner that I can be.