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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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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Curling: A Beginner's Guide to Where and How to Learn to Curl
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Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

To the casual spectator, curling raises several questions. What are the players yelling about, for instance, and is all the sweeping really that important? The viewers who are only aware of the sport for two weeks every four years may also wonder if curling is still a thing when the winter Olympics are no longer in session. The answer, of course, is yes, and you don't need to be training for the big event to learn the game.

Curling may not have the mainstream appeal of other winter sports like skiing or ice-skating, but it's still accessible to amateurs if you know where to look. If you're a complete beginner, the best way to jump into the sport is to find your local curling club. Some clubs have spaces of their own dedicated to curling, while others are part of larger rinks that are also used for general ice skating. Team USA and the Shot Rock Curling Supplies company both offer interactive maps on their websites you can use to search curling clubs in your area.

Once you've found your club, the next step is learning the sport. Many curling clubs offer classes for beginners to develop the rudimentary skills required to deliver stones and sweep ice. Programs might consist of one session or a course spanning several weeks. Once you have a handle on the basics, you'll be prepared to get back on the ice and compete.

But unlike other sports, finding the right tools, people, and space necessary to actually play the sport isn't so easy. Fortunately, curling clubs also organize leagues for varying skill levels that provide all of that for you. To play you'll first have to pay a membership fee, but once you've signed up you'll be a part of a team that shares your commitment to the game.

This is the same way many Olympic athletes got involved in the sport, but it's a worthy hobby whether or not you aspire to go for the gold one day. The Oakville Curling Club in Ontario writes on their website: "It is a lifelong sport that can be learned at any age. Whether playing in a fun league or in a competitive ladder the emphasis is always on sportsmanship and fair play. Being a social sport by nature, it is not uncommon for teams to socialize off the ice where lasting friendships are often made."

Check out these cool facts about curling to learn the basics of how the game is played.

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