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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
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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