Chris Finill: a sub-three hour ever-present

Worldrunning.com catches up with one of the world's most prolific sub-three hour marathon-runners Chris Finill, the only runner to have completed every edition of the London Marathon in under three hours

An exclusive clique of fifteen runners can boast they have completed every edition of the London Marathon starting from the first one in 1981 but top bragging rights belong to Chris Finill, the only member from this dwindling group who has posted a sub-three hour performance in every edition of this race.

You would think such consistency at an advanced recreational level for close to four decades would be the bi-product of years and years of high and consistent mileage but while his contemporaries doggedly grind out one hundred miles per week on the roads, Chris' unorthodox formula of running 30-40 miles per week is clearly one which works well for him.

“It's become a philosophy over the years, I suppose,” explains Chris on this weekly mileage which is more akin to a middle-distance runner. “When I was 20 or 21, I started to train quite heavily and I caught pneumonia on two occasions so I started to train much more wisely.

“That tradition of 80-100 miles per week never took hold of me which I guess is why forty years down the line, I can still run without having exhausted myself or worn myself out when I was younger.”

Nor has he always placed a meticulous focus on this race which makes this track record, or road record, all the more meritorious. The London Marathon has often been an afterthought after the cross-country season where he runs for Harrow AC, and longer endeavours have often preceded the London Marathon as well.

In 2005, Chris ran a 100km ultra-marathon before “doing absolutely nothing” in the week between that race and the London Marathon where he ran 2:53:45, but even that double is a docile schedule compared to his endeavours at the end of 2011.

Accompanied by friend and fellow veteran marathon-runner Stephen Pope, the two of them committed themselves to the daunting assignment of running across the United States from coast to coast to raise money for Help for Heroes. Within two hours of landing in San Francisco, Chris and Stephen set out on a 3100 mile journey to New York where they averaged 40 miles per day over 79 days and 22 hours (just inside their 80 day goal!) and experienced almost every climatic condition possible.

Their exploits raised a sum of £15,000 but it did come at a physiological price. Chris ran the 2012 marathon in a solid 2:50:32 but ongoing problems with his gait – one of the hallmarks of his consistency – traced back to this trek have continued to hamstring his training. These ramifications, combined with a niggling knee problem, left him unsure of his shape before last year's race.

Chris completed the course in 2:58:35 and while this was his slowest time to date, it is still a performance he reflects on with a lot of satisfaction. “I think it was the one I'm probably proudest of,” said Chris, whose fastest time of 2:28:27 dates back to 1985. “I felt I ran a really good race for the condition I was in on the day.

“I felt I ran a very controlled race insofar as it went according to plan. I was pleased with the way it went – it was a difficult race.

“It was much more difficult than running some arbitrary time in the 2:40s because every second counts when you are so near the three hour-barrier.

“Before the race I wasn't sure If I was in 2:55 shape or 3:15 shape which is quite a range of outcomes. During the race I always felt like I was going to break the three hour-mark, but I didn't know it at the start.”

The streak remains intact for another year, although he comes to the 34th edition with similar reservations about his physical shape. “This year I've been injured with a very tight hamstring and training has not been going very well,” Chris admits. “I'm sort of touch-and-go for slightly different reasons this year. I'm quite fit, but I am injured!”

And how has the London Marathon changed in this 33-year period? Surely fewer people are better credentialed to discuss the evolution of the race but according to Chris, continuity is in fact the over-riding theme.

“I think it's changed surprisingly little,” he said. “It was a 7000 person race on day one, and it quickly became a bigger event. I think the route has pretty much stayed the same. The mood, atmosphere and crowds are pretty much the same too.

“A lot more money is raised for charity these days, and club runners are a less significant part but it's a good formula, and I think it's stuck to a good formula. The organisers haven't meddled with it too much.”

Another constant is the consistency of Chris' sub-three hour performances. He is already recognised in the Guinness Book of World Records for his exploits, and he'll be looking to extend his remarkable record to 34 successive sub-three hour London Marathons on Sunday.

 

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