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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.)


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.


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."


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."


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!



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."


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.


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.'"


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


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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Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images

In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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