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Famous People Who Have Run Marathons (and How They Did)

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As New York continues to bask in the feel-good energy of last weekend's marathon (and proceeds to collect and tear down the miles upon miles worth of gates and barricades scattered throughout the five boroughs), many of us spectators have started to think about hitting the gym and possibly gearing up to run a marathon of our own.

But if you've thought the number of people running marathons seems to be on the rise, you're right! There's a reason everyone has a former roommate or an uncle or a handful of co-workers who are constantly training: more than half a million people complete American marathons each year, and adjusting for events like natural disasters, the number of participants has steadily been on the rise.

So, of course it makes sense that of the hundreds of thousands who strap on their sneakers each year, some of them will be more well-known than others. This year's New York City Marathon counted Alicia Keys, Ethan Hawke, and Tiki Barber amongst its participants. And whether they're running for their physical health, their mental health, or a charity (or, more likely, a combination of all three), we commend everyone who sticks it out for the grueling 26.2 miles, including these 12 celebrities. (Note that many of these people have run multiple marathons; the event and time listed are each person's personal record.)

1. ALAN TURING // 1947 AMATEUR ATHLETIC CHAMPIONSHIPS // 2:46:03

Besides being a world-renowned mathematician and code-breaker, Turing was also an avid runner. He even tried out for the 1948 British Olympic team, coming in fifth in the trials. A Brit took home the silver that year with a time of 2:35:07—if he'd been in that race, Turing's time would have landed him in 15th.

2. PETER SAGAL // 2011 PHILADELPHIA MARATHON // 3:09:25

The popular host of NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" also writes a column for Runner's World on his many multi-mile endeavors. In 2013, he acted as a sighted running partner for a visually impaired man during the Boston Marathon—they finished together just five minutes before the bombs went off. "BOOM. An enormous noise, like the most powerful firework you've ever heard, thundered from behind us. … Another BOOM. White smoke rose in a miniature mushroom cloud into the air, a hundred yards away, just on the other side of the finish," Sagal wrote the next day. "I had just finished my 10th marathon, my third Boston, and I had never heard anything like that. Ever. Cowbells, music, cries of pain, sure, but never that."

3. OPRAH WINFREY // 1994 MARINE CORPS MARATHON // 4:29:20

Winfrey is often credited with the 1990s and 2000s upswing in marathon participants—she'd vowed to run one before she turned 40, and when the Queen of Daytime Talk Shows says she's going to meet a goal, you know it's going to happen. She ran 26 miles in a downpour, with two National Enquirer reporters tagging along beside her.

4. PAUL RYAN // 1990 GRANDMA'S MARATHON // 4:01:25

The newly elected Speaker of the House caused quite a stir back in 2012 when he told a radio program that he ran a sub-three-hour marathon—a feat relatively few amateur athletes can claim (though former CIA director David Petraeus ran a 2:50:53 in Omaha in 1982). Turns out, he lied; or, misremembered, as his spokesperson said. The then-20-year-old college student had run the hilariously titled Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn. in just over four hours, a time former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (who ran a 3:58:44 in NYC in 1983) made sure to write a full article in Slate to point out: "A sub-4-hour marathon is possible for a determined but not-too-talented runner. Sub-3 requires real talent."

5. JONNY LEE MILLER // 2008 LONDON MARATHON // 3:01:40

You know who did nearly run a sub-three-hour marathon though? Sherlock. No, not the Cumberbatch (though he did quite a bit of running when he played the aforementioned Alan Turing in The Imitation Game). Elementary's Sherlock has not only run more than 15 marathons, but he's also completed a number of ultra-marathons, including one 50-miler this past spring. That solves the case of his 26.2 tattoo!

6. SEAN COMBS // 2003 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON // 4:14:52

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Puffy (then P. Diddy) trained hard for his hometown race—and he fund-raised hard too. The rapper raised $2 million for New York public schools and children in need, wrangling his celebrity friends like Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to kick in. One of his self-proclaimed "Diddy Runs the City" goals? To beat Oprah's marathon time. "I've never experienced mental or physical pain like that," Combs, then 33, told reporters after crossing the finish line. "But it was a beautiful experience."

7. BRYAN CRANSTON // 1985 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON // 3:20:45

Everyone's favorite TV teacher began training for the New York City Marathon when he was a young actor in the city who had just been fired from a soap opera gig. Sulking around, he happened upon the finish line and later told The New Yorker that he was so inspired by the “old people, children, people in bunny costumes, people who’d lost their legs, this amazing menagerie of humanity” who were finishing the race, that he began training immediately to run the following year.

8. UZO ADUBA // 2013 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON // 5:01

Aduba has won two Emmys for her role as "Crazy Eyes" on Orange is the New Black, and for this year's Boston Marathon, she put her celebrity to use and ran for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. As Aduba told Women's Health, she lost a woman she described as a "second mom" last year to cancer. And not only did this woman help her realize her dreams as a child, she gave her a playlist for life. "When I think of Andrea—talk about a fighter—when she passed away, the song that was most played on her iPod was 'Brave' by Sara Bareilles. I love that song so much. I run to that every single day, and I'm going to run to it … when I'm coming through the finish line. … I'm going to listen to that song because that's the song she was fighting [for] her life with, that was her motivator getting through every single day of treatment, every single round of chemo, that was what she was listening to constantly. And I listen to that when I'm training now, and I can hear her telling me, 'Keep going.'"

9. HARUKI MURAKAMI // 1991 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON // 3:31:26

The famed Japanese author and one of this year's TIME 100 Most Influential People didn't start running until he was in his thirties. Since then he's completed ultra-marathons and written a best-selling memoir about running, 2008's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. His takeaway? "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

10. GEORGE W. BUSH // 1993 HOUSTON MARATHON // 3:44:52


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Though quite a number of presidential contenders have run marathons (Sarah Palin, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis among them), George W. is the only president who has one on the books. Bush was 46 when he ran the Houston race—two years before he became governor of Texas—and he continued running while in the Oval Office. "I believe anyone can make the time [to run]," he told Runner's World in 2002. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe it—I know it. If the President of the United States can make the time, anyone can."

11. APOLO OHNO // 2011 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON // 3:25:12

Plenty of professional and Olympic athletes have decided to go the distance with a marathon, and most soon realize they have to completely revamp their training techniques. Eight-time Olympic speed-skating medalist Ohno was no different. "I went from short, ballistic-type one-and-a-half minute training to something that lasts 3 hours, 24 minutes longer," he told Extra after the race. "The last 6.2 miles are gruesome, my body isn't designed for this."

12. WILL FERRELL // 2003 BOSTON MARATHON // 3:56:12

You can always count on Ferrell to put things in perspective. "Running a marathon is not a question of whether it will be painful, but when it will be painful," he said after completing Boston, his third marathon (he's also run NYC and Stockholm). A few years later, he noted, "People are terribly underwhelmed when they recognize me in a race. There’s nothing funny going on. It’s just a lot of silence and pain."

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MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
13 Secrets of Roller Derby
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

When sports promoter Leo Seltzer got the idea to organize a roller skating marathon in 1935, he probably didn’t expect that his event would provide the basis for a fledgling sport known as roller derby. Those early contests had skaters circling a track for thousands of miles over a period of a month to test their endurance; the current incarnation is more of a contact sport that involves players protecting—or blocking—a player known as a "jammer" who is trying to skate past the opposing team for points.

A popular sport through the 1950s and 1960s, derby briefly lost some of its luster when a bit of the theatricality usually found in pro wrestling made its way to the tracks to bolster television ratings in the 1970s. While today's derby still maintains some of that showmanship—players often compete under pseudonyms like H.P. Shovecraft—you’d be wrong to characterize its players as anything less than serious and determined athletes. Mental Floss asked several competitors about the game, the hazards of Velcro, and the etiquette of sending get-well cards to opponents with broken bones.

1. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THEY USE ALTER EGOS.

Derby players looking to erase the image of the scantily-clad events of the ‘70s sometimes bemoan the continued use of aliases, but there’s a practical reason for keeping that tradition going. According to Elektra-Q-Tion, a player in Raleigh, North Carolina, pseudonyms can help athletes remain safe from overzealous fans. “It’s kind of like being a C-level celebrity,” she says. “Some players can have stalkers. I have a couple of fans that can be a little aggressive. Using 'Elektra-Q-Tion' helps keep a separation there. If they know my real name, they can find out where I live or work.”

2. THEY CAN’T ALWAYS RECOGNIZE OTHER PLAYERS OFF THE TRACK.

For many players, derby is as much a social outlet as a physical one—but meetings outside of the track can sometimes be awkward. Because of the equipment and constant motion, it can be hard to register facial features for later reference. “You don’t really get the opportunity to see them move like a normal person,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People can identify me because I’m really tall, but if someone comes up and says we’ve played, I have to do that thing where I hold my hand up over their head [to mimic their helmet] and go, ‘Oh, it’s you.’”

3. THEY SUFFER FROM “DERBY FACE.”

Extreme concentration, core engagement, and other aspects of the game often conspire to make players somewhat less than photogenic. “'Derby face' is common,” says Barbie O’Havoc, a player from the J-Town Roller Girls in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “You’re pretty focused on trying not to fall over or get beat up.”

4. THEY CAN KISS THEIR FEET GOODBYE.

Hours of practice in skates usually precedes an unfortunate fate for feet. “Your feet become pretty gross,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People sometimes say it’s because skates don’t fit right, but it can happen with custom skates. You get calluses, your toenails get worn and fall off, your bones shift, you get fallen arches. One time a doctor thought I had MRSA. He actually recoiled from my foot. I had a blister on my blister.”

5. THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE DOCTORS THEY’RE NOT BEING ABUSED.

Flying, crashing bodies skating at velocity will become heavily bruised, with players sporting black eyes and large-scale blemishes. If they need to seek medical attention when something is broken, those superficial marks often raise suspicion. “The first question people will ask is, ‘Are you okay?’” says Elektra-Q-Tion. “Once, my husband took me to the emergency room because I had broken my hand. The nurse asked him to leave the room and asked me, ‘Did he do this to you?’”

6. THEIR GEAR SMELLS PRETTY BAD.

“Derby stink is very much real,” says Barbie O’Havoc. “It comes down to body chemistry. Some players don’t have a problem. Others can wash their gear all the time and it still stinks. After I sold my car that I used to haul my gear in for years, my sister told me it smelled awful. The entire car.”

7. NO PLAYER WEARS A “1” JERSEY—AND FOR GOOD REASON.

Attend a derby bout and it’s unlikely you’ll see any player sporting a “1” on their jersey. “I've always heard you shouldn't use the number 1,” says Cyan Eyed, a player for Gem City Roller Derby in Ohio. “But not everyone is aware of the 1937 bus crash.” On March 24 of that year, a bus carrying 14 skaters and 9 support staff was driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati when it crashed, killing 21 passengers. Joe Kleats, a veteran player who was riding on the bus, wore the number; when he and the others died, the sport retired it in memory of the tragedy.

8. THEY HAVE SKATE MECHANICS.

The pounding endured by skates, wheels, and bearings often requires attention from someone versed in repair and maintenance work. Enter the skate mechanic, typically an official or significant other of a player who doubles as the team’s wheel-person. “Players are afraid of taking their expensive skates apart,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. But she'd prefer that skaters know how to care for their own wheels. “I don’t like the idea of someone not understanding how they work. What happens if the ref retires?”

9. VELCRO IS THEIR ENEMY.

Much of a derby player’s gear, such as knee and elbow pads, is held in place with Velcro, that useful-but-dangerous adhesion system. “The problem with Velcro is the close contact,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “If people don’t have it on correctly or part of it is peeling off, they’ll scrape you with it and you won’t realize it until you’re in the shower later and the water hits it, which is a miserable feeling.”

10. THEY TRY TO BE POLITE EVEN AFTER SMASHING SOMEONE.

Injuries are expected in derby, but if you unwittingly broke someone’s nose, it’s considered polite track manners to check up on them later. “I remember seeing a nasty injury and our league sent her flowers and a card,” Barbie O’Havoc says.

11. THEY CAN WATCH OTHER TEAMS PRACTICE.

Good luck allowing members of an NFL team to drop in on an opposing team’s practice. Derby, which prides itself on a communal atmosphere, doesn’t mind opening its doors for visiting rivals. “If I go to, say, San Diego and ask to practice with the local team there, most of the time they would say yes,” Elektra-Q-Tion says.

12. A PENNY CAN SPELL DOOM.

It’s not often something as tiny as a coin can bring a sporting event to a complete halt, but that’s what happens when you’re dependent on skate mobility. Barbie O’Havoc says that although tracks are swept and cleaned before bouts, the odd foreign object can still pop up, causing wheels (and feet) to go flying. “There’s a washer on the toe stop that can fall off,” she says. “And I’ve seen people lose their wedding rings.” Pebbles and other tiny hazards will prompt a time-out until they're found and disposed of.

13. THEY DISLIKE HOLLYWOOD.

Whenever television crime dramas depict derby, it’s typically presented as a bunch of “bad girls” with sour attitudes and a thirst for blood on the track. “That seems to be very attractive to movie and television people,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “Usually someone gets murdered.” 2009’s Whip It, a comedy-drama starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore, didn’t fare much better in terms of believability—but players will give that one a pass. “Whip It was great press for us. That’s when we had most of our new audience and skaters come in.”

All images courtesy of Getty.

A version of this story ran in 2016.

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Shout! Factory
Original GLOW Wrestling Series Hits Twitch
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

When it premiered in June 2017, GLOW was a bit of a sleeper offering for Netflix. With the amount of original programming ordered by the streaming service, a show based on an obscure women’s pro wrestling league from the 1980s seemed destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the series was a critical and commercial success. Ahead of its second season, which drops on June 29, you'll have a chance to see the mat work of the original women who inspired it.

Shout! Factory has announced they will be live-streaming clips from the first four seasons of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which first premiered in 1986, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on June 28. The stream, which will be available on shoutfactorytv.com and Twitch, will feature original footage framed by new interviews with personalities including Godiva, host Johnny C, and Hollywood. The show will air live from the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles.

Godiva, who was portrayed by Dawn Maestas, inspired the character Rhonda (a.k.a. Brittanica) on the Netflix series; Hollywood was the alter ego of Jeanne Basone, who inspired the character Cherry in the fictionalized version of the league. Basone later posed for Playboy and takes bookings for one-on-one wrestling matches with fans.

Shout! Factory's site also features a full-length compilation of footage, Brawlin’ Beauties: GLOW, hosted by onetime WWE interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

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