By Amira Lirario
Tokyo, February 26th 2017 was the day that I finally completed my sixth Abbot World Marathon Major. A most remarkable and momentous day.
As I passed through the finish line of the Tokyo marathon, I became part of an elite group of around 1,000 runners from over 30 countries to bare the title Abbot World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher, a title that I am most honored and proud to own. It is a title that has been years in the making, and one that I have worked extremely hard to achieve.
Started in 2006, the Abbot World Marathon Majors
is a championship-style competition for marathon runners that include six annual races in the cities of Tokyo (starting 2013), Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City, a biennial race, the IAAF World Championships Marathon, and a quadrennial race, the Olympic Games. In 2013, with the addition of Tokyo marathon and the completion of all six annual races came the Six Star Finisher status. Abbot, a global healthcare company, became the first title sponsor for the WMM in 2015.
The most coveted of all marathon medals made its debut at Tokyo in 2016, the Abbot World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher medal.
It is superb! Mine holds center stage on my living room wall surrounded by my other six WMM medals and the Certificate of Recognition. I smile every time I gaze at it.
My journey initially began in 2009 when, as a new runner of 3 months, I ran my first half marathon in under 2:00. Naturally I was very excited to have accomplished such a challenge so early on in my running life, but I was not satisfied with the half distance. I wanted more! I wanted to be a marathoner. It was then that I decided to return to the same race the following fall and run the marathon.
Holyoke MA, May 5th 2010, was to be my first marathon. Having no knowledge of how to train for a marathon, I thought it best to run my first race close to home. Before I could put my training into action, I came across an advertisement in a running magazine for what was then the five World Marathon Majors. I’m not quite sure what it was about that particular advertisement that captured my attention, but I knew that this was an invitation I could not ignore. I had a plan.
I would run my first marathon mid-year to make sure that I could actually run the 26.2 mile distance. My fall race would become my Boston qualifier. I would qualify for NYC marathon with Boston. Chicago the next closest to home, then Berlin, and finally London, as I knew gaining entrance into London would be a challenge in itself.
In keeping to my plan of running my first marathon, I ran a steady 4:24. The qualifying time for Boston 2011 was 3:45 (F40-44). I was not deterred. I joined a running club (Glastonbury River Runners
) to help me train on my long runs, and began to research how to run better and faster. October 9, 2010, I crossed the finish line of the Hartford Marathon with a Boston qualifying time of 3:43. I was on my way to the 115th Boston marathon on April 18, 2011. Elated, I threw up my hands and hugged the first volunteer within arms reach, naturally asking for permission. I had made it to Boston. The first step on my WMM journey, and the stepping-stone to my next.
There’s nothing quite like your first Boston marathon experience. Qualifying, entering, being formally accepted, running alongside 26.2 miles of roaring crowds, and of course the infamous ‘Heartbreak hill.’ Telling family and friends, telling anyone who would listen, that you are going to be running the same streets, in the same foot steps as some of the most elite runners in the world. Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya was one such icon, running the then world’s fastest marathon in Boston in 2:03:02. With a 3:32, I secured myself a qualifying entry into the NYC marathon in 2011.
The 42nd NYC marathon, November 6th 2011, was my eldest daughter’s 10th birthday, and she never let me forget it. Unfortunately my NYC marathon experience was not quite the same exhilarating experience as Boston had been. Along with what I believe to be a more challenging course than Boston, and a rookie marathon mistake I made, NYC was a painful experience. I worn an old pair of running shoes that I had not trained in, but thought would be fine, since I’d worn them before.
I’d been plagued with blisters during my training, so naturally was trying to avoid the same from happening during the race. Around mile 6, my small left toe started to hurt, and continued to become inflamed as the miles proceeded. Thoughts of dropping out of the race crossed my mind often due to the pain, but I worried about how I’d make it to the finish, so I decided to soldier on. 3 hours 39 minutes later I limped across the finish line. Those shoes never made it home. I tossed them in a bin in NYC and never looked back. Maybe one day I’ll return to NYC marathon and take the bitter taste out of my mouth, but for now, I’m just happy I made it to the finish line.
Chicago Marathon October 7th 2012. A large beautiful, and vibrant city. I was enthralled by the sheer number of people walking around the city 24-hours a day. A well-organized and relatively flat marathon had runners winding through 29 neighborhoods, as well as downtown Chicago. 2012 had the best weather, and another marathon PR for me. Chicago was also where my two running friends joined me in my quest to run the five WMM. They both had some catching up to do, but it was great to have friends join me for the remainder of my journey, which now became our journey.
The 40th edition of the Berlin marathon, September 29 2013, was a bit of a game changer for me. Five marathons down, I decided it was time to change up my training and break into a sub 3:30 marathon race time. In June 2012, I had received my RRCA Running Coach certification, and set up my own running coach business. Coaching one-on-one, and running alongside my clients, afforded me the opportunity to add mileage to my training. The additional weekly mileage, coming in for the most part at an easier pace, gave me the break through I was looking for. Berlin with it’s flat and fast course became, and remains, my fastest and favorite of all the WMM.
My Berlin marathon experience began with a breakfast run the morning before the race, where runners from all around the world gathered in the early morning to run 4 miles, ending in unison at the Coliseum. An amazing experience! Berlin also has the best finish line, running through the Brandenburg Gate, but as I came to find out, the actual finish line is beyond the gate, way beyond. It is a tad tough after running 26.2 miles and thinking you’re at the finish only to have to keep going.
The highest number marathon world records for men and women have been set on the Berlin course, and Berlin 2013 was no exception. Kenyan star Wilson Kipsang set a new world marathon record with a time of 2:03:23, until Dennis Kimetto, of Kenya, broke that record in a time of 2:02:57 on the same course in 2014, a record that stands today. Fancy that, being at not one, but two World Marathon Majors where the fastest marathon times were set.
Much to my dismay, in 2013 Tokyo marathon became the sixth World Marathon Major. Since I was not to complete all five World Marathon Majors by 2013 (a stipulation once Tokyo was added), I had to continue on with all six Majors to claim recognition and a title. I was not happy. I had no desire to go to Tokyo, and actually shed some tears over this new development.
Jump forward two years later to the London Marathon, April 26th 2015, and I was on home ground, but it had been over 20-years since I’d been to London. With family and friends cheering me on, and great crowd support, British style, London was a special and exciting experience for me. Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder with a time of 2:15:25, and three-time winner of the London Marathon, three-time NYC Marathon champion and winner of Chicago in 2002, ran her grand finale at London 2015. Unfortunately I’d just missed seeing her when I left the British celebrity spectator area to go to the loo. I was quite disappointed. I did see the actress Helen George who plays Trixie in the series Call the Midwife, which was quite exciting. How often do you get to see a celebrity up close at a marathon? London is also quite a unique experience in that it is a huge charity fundraising event where participants run in some of the most bizarre and outlandish costumes.
And then there was one! My 15th marathon, Tokyo February 26th 2017. The race also happened to mark my 25th anniversary of coming to America, and my brother’s birthday. A most historic day. Having tried unsuccessfully to gain entry through the general lottery, and a semi-elite lottery, my two friends and I opted to go through Marathon Tours
. While a bit on the pricey side, Marathon Tours did a nice job organizing a tour; getting us to the expo with a pre-expo lunch; getting us to the race; and providing a post-race dinner complete with accolades.
New Way, New Tokyo was the slogan for the Tokyo marathon. New in 2017 was a Friendship Run the day before the marathon, and much to my delight, a new flatter course. I was running this race only two days into a 24-hour travel schedule with very little sleep and a 14-hour time difference for my body clock.
This race was different for me in so many ways. As I passed through the finish line of the race, I was not only going to have lived through an experience of a lifetime, but I would finally complete all six Abbot World Marathon Majors, seven years after I had set my dream in motion. I very happy that I didn’t complete the WMM back in 2013. All those unhappy feelings about the addition of Tokyo to the Abbot WMM were gone. Ceremoniously crowned with the king of all marathon medals, and baring the title of Six Star Finisher, I’d done it!
So what now? Well for the first time since 2010, I am taking a break from running a fall marathon. I will return home to England in April 2018 to run the Greater Manchester Marathon, a marathon I’ve been keeping on the back burner until I completed the WMM. Manchester, England is a city close to where I grew up, so I’m excited to go home and share the experience with family and friends. For me that’s what being a runner is all about, supporting and sharing each other’s amazing experiences and accomplishments. My greatest cheerleaders are my husband and my four children. Without their love and support, my dream would not have been possible. I find myself blessed every day to be a mother, a wife, a friend, and a runner. Thank you for allowing me to share my experience of a lifetime with you, and I hope you go out and find some of your own to share.
Amira Lerario is an RRCA Certified Coach, a USATF Level I Coach, and Certified ACE personal trainer. She is a competative grand master runner and marathoner. You can find Amira's coaching services online at RunningwithAmira.com