Celebrity Marathons: Learning From the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Jason Fitzgerald

Time to have some fun. This post is mostly for entertainment – after all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

There have been a lot of celebrities who’ve run marathons. What can we learn from them? What funny things have they said about the marathon? Let’s find out!

The ten actors, politicians, musicians, and celebrity figures below have run marathons at one point or another in their lives. Surprisingly, some of them have run pretty fast! You wouldn’t normally think that some of these people are runners – but they may surprise you.

George Bush, Jr. – Houston Marathon

Say what you will about George Bush as a President, but the man can run a marathon! Way back in 1993 he ran the Houston Marathon in an impressive 3:44. He did it to blow off steam because he was pissed that his dad lost the Presidency to Bill Clinton.

He said running “can make you feel 10 years younger the day of the race and 10 years older the day after the race.” True that, Dubbya!

Take a lesson from Bush from how he ran his marathon: run even splits! Don’t go out too hard or you’ll pay dearly in the latter miles. Bush ’43 went out in 8:30 for his first mile and finished up his last in 8:30. I’m honestly impressed.

Lance Armstrong – New York Marathon

It might be unfair to put Lance Armstrong in this round-up considering he’s won the Tour de France a record seven times and has been called the greatest athlete of all time. But his marathon teaches a lot of valuable lessons.

I remember back when he was preparing to run his first marathon. Many runners and cyclists predicted his finish time to be among the elite – around 2:10. He does, after all, have a VO2 Max of about 85 (non-runners are in the 40’s – last year mine was measured at 69).

But Lance “only” ran 2:59 in his first marathon, a time that thousands of other competitive marathoners can run. The lesson here is threefold:

  1. You can’t predict running performance on VO2 Max alone
  2. Specificity of training is key – being a world class cyclist doesn’t mean you’re going to be an elite runner (or even a very competitive marathoner)
  3. Don’t underestimate the humbling nature of a 26.2 mile race

When he finished, Lance called the marathon “the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.” Respect.

Ryan Reynolds – New York Marathon

Ryan Reynolds, who probably should have won an Oscar for his role in Van Wilder, ran an impressive 3:50 in the New York marathon. He’s an overall athletic guy but far from what a fast marathoner looks like. He was definitely in shape when he ran the race, but wasn’t as cut as he was during Blade Trinity when his body fat percentage was a reported 3.5% (that’s not a typo – three point five percent!).

Ryan Reynolds marathon

He doesn’t think too highly of his performance, saing “I’m not a runner – I’m a running joke.” But with a 3:50 finishing time, he ran alright in my book.

I think the lesson with him is that you can carry over non-specific fitness to the marathon. Like Lance Armstrong, athleticism in other sports can help you become a good marathoner. But only marathon-specific training will enable you to bring it to the next level

David Lee Roth – New York Marathon

Yes, the lead singer of Van Halen actually ran a marathon! But here’s where it gets ugly: his time was 6:04.

That’s almost 14 minutes per mile! Most people can speed walk that fast. Perhaps years of living the rock star lifestyle of booze, drugs, and little sleep wrecked his body’s ability to run. Who knows.

This quote from David Lee Roth best sums up his marathon experience: “I used to run, but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass.” Stick to music, David.

Mario Lopez – Boston Marathon

Here’s another painful marathon. Mario Lopez ran 5:41 at the Boston Marathon. His body type is the opposite of how most marathoners look: he’s bulky and probably spends too much time in the weight room.

Alas, that’s not why he ran so slow. It turns out that he ran with his girlfriend, on a bad ankle, and even stopped for lunch. I won’t judge Mario Lopez too much after that.

Maybe he danced part of the way, too. Either way, it serves a good reminder that you don’t always have to take running so seriously. Have some fun sometimes!

Oprah Winfrey – Marine Corps Marathon

Most people know that Oprah ran a marathon because she seemed like the first celebrity to finish the distance. There were plenty of other celebs running before her, but I think she was the best at popularizing the feat and encouraging millions to get in shape. Good for her – I think she did the sport a lot of good.

And she’s not that slow either! Oprah ran an impressive 4:29 for her first marathon. Oprah taught millions that you can lose weight, get in shape, and tackle a seemingly impossible goal. After all, it’s only impossible until you do it.

Who’s with me and thinks she should run another marathon and try to break four hours?!

Anthony Edwards – Chicago Marathon

Anthony Edwards is the guy from ER – no, not George Clooney, the skinnier balder guy. He completed the Chicago Marathon in 3:55 – not bad at all.

That’s not all either – Edwards has run Chicago three times and has also run the New York Marathon while raising money for Shoes 4 Africa, a nonprofit that raises funds to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, provide education, empower women, and promote health.

He’s run four marathons (three more than I have) while raising a lot of money and awareness for a great charity. I wish more celebrities would do the same.

Will Ferrell – Boston Marathon

We’re going streaking! To the quad…through the gymnasium… everyone’s doing it!

Ferrell ran clothed (thank God) and ran a respectable 3:56, which actually impresses me a lot considering he was pretty overweight in the latter years of his Saturday Night Live career.

One thing is for sure, you can definitely turn your fitness around and go from chubby to marathoner in a relatively short amount of time.

Freddie Prinze, Jr. – LA Marathon

I haven’t seen much of Freddie these days, which is a shame since I am a proud fan of She’s All That (don’t make fun of me). His marathon time is…well, awful: 5:50.

Yikes. It’s probably a good thing that he used the psuedonym “Freddie James” to register for the race.  Not too many lesson to be learned from Freddie, except train more.

P Diddy – New York Marathon

Oh P Diddy. This is one of my favorite celebrity marathons for two reasons. First, Diddy’s goal was to beat Oprah. He narrowly succeeded by running 4:14, less than 15 minutes faster than Oprah. He must have been sweating during that last 10k!

Next, he had some great things to say about his training program:

I’m avoiding alcohol and sex right now. To indulge, I take a bath, do some aromatherapy, with some lavender scent. I get a massage once a week.

The discipline! The self-sacrifice! The complete misunderstanding of what actually constitutes effective training and recovery! As I type this I’m drinking a glass of wine.

P Diddy Marathon

Training hard?

Now if these celebrities can run marathons, so can you! And if you’re a Strength Running reader, you can definitely run a lot faster (and are probably more good looking) than most of these celebs.

The next time you’re struggling to finish a marathon workout, just remember: if Mario Lopez can do it, so can you!

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Brandon

My goals for my first marathon in October are 1) to finish, 2) to break 4 hours and 3) to beat Ryan Reynolds. I figure beating a millionaire actor that looks as ripped as him would be cool :-)

Fitz

Haha yes, I think so too! Are you running Chicago?

Brandon

I’m running the Maine Marathon actually. The course description says the last 9 miles are mostly flat or downhill, so I’m looking forward to a strong finish!

Dawsy

Brandon, you’re my hero – I was just about to post the same thing (though it’ll be next September that I do my run). As extra incentive, I went to school with him and he was a beedy-eyed git and a bully :)

Fitz

Oh man, we’re getting the dirt on Ryan Reynolds! Dawsy, good luck with your marathon man and beating his time.

Kurt

Hi all–I’ve been following the Strength Running website for awhile now, but I’m a recently-joined member of the team. Thanks for having me along!

I just ran my first marathon last weekend, and I was on a solid 3:30 pace until mile 21, when my right hamstring completely cramped up! I felt like I was in the Karate Kid, doing the Crane Kick pose, because I was trying to balance on one leg while trying to massage the other to bring it down. I figured I would share that here, since I kind of felt like I was in a movie… haha I still ended up coming in at 3:50–eat that, Ryan Reynolds!

It was probably too little too late, but another fellow marathoner shared some salt tablets with me, and it helped a lot. If you have any additional advice on avoiding cramps (I have another marathon scheduled on October 9th), Jason, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks a bunch!

Fitz

Welcome aboard Kurt! Let me pull up some info – maybe it’s a good time for a post on muscle cramps…

Lisa

I’m happy I was faster than at least half of them. But Oprah better not break 4 before I do!

Fitz

Doubtful!

Anne P

What a cool post! It’s interesting to see how everyone did, though I’d say that ANY time is a good one when a marathon is involved :) I remember Lance saying after that that a marathon was the hardest thing he’d ever done. I was actually in Boston cheering on a friend the year he ran that one and saw him run by – so cool!

As for me, I’m sticking to half marathons – my current PR is 1:51:47 :) My new goal is to break 1:50 someday!

Fitz

That’s a fast half Anne – you’re SO close! Good luck, I’m sure you’ll break it with a good block of training.

Gwen

I hope to beat Oprah one day…but I’m also a total novice. I’d like to beat my 6hr time!

Fitz

You can do it!

Jimi

I’m running my first Full this October (Denver Rock N Roll), hoping to beat Oprah. But just finishing will be awesome!

Fitz

Good luck Jimi, I’ll be rooting for you!

Wes

I did the Disney Marathon in almost exactly 7 hours with my wife. Wouldn’t trade it for the world. She’s still a marathoner :-)

Fitz

Sure is!

David H.

Great post – I was thinking during my marathon last year of who I could beat as things were going bad — I may have to print out this list and keep it with me for motivation when I get to mile 20.

Fitz

Good strategy. You can’t let Mario Lopez beat you :)

David H.

I’m happy to report that I have beaten him already. :) Even injured last year, I was nearly an hour faster than his time.

Justin

There are some surprising times there. I am planning on beating George Bush Jr next Sunday!

Justin

Unfortunatley I didn’t beat George and am very dissapointed in my time and performance.

I ran 4:20. It was my first marathon, I thought I would do a lot better than that with my first half marathon time of 1:43.

If you can learn from my mistakes here is a list:
1. The marathon is a completely different beast to the half.
2. I ran in a hat but I never trainined in a hat. It was a hot day (I think 28c in Sydney) and was coming off the back of winter so I wasn’t used to wearing it because I hadn’t needed to until then. It was a toss up between the hat and sunscreen, I opted for the hat but it was a real annoyance to me
3. I wore calf compression socks, again I hadn’t trained in them and it was just too hot – My feet felt like they were going to melt. I rolled them down at about 27km and would have cut them off if someone had a knife or scissors
4. I ran out too hard, my splits got further and further apart as the day went on – there is a lot to be said for pacing
5. I wish I carried water
6. The longest training run I did was 35.7km on a bush track – I should have done more long runs on the road – I did this run in 3:21 purely for the dustance not for time and felt good the whole way, legs got heavy at 32kms but nothing like the pain I got at 27km in the marathon I certainly would have run under 4 hours for a full marathon distance on this run had I continued
7. During the run I really wanted to drink a lot of water but wasn’t sure how much was too much
8. I wish I drove the track or got my head around all of the loops and dog legs, I found it extremely demorilising running in the oposite direction to the fastre runners for kms at a time knowing that I had to turn around and run back that distance again.

I learnt a lot and will be back for more, my next goal will be to beat 4:00, this years Sydney marathon average time was 4:19 or 13 minutes slower than last year, not sure if that was due to the heat or the field but it was damn hot.

No excuses, I hould have trained for longer and more frequently and I knew the solution to most of the above problems before the race but I made the mistakes anyway.

Lesson learnt, onwards and upwards.

Fitz

Great lessons here Justin and glad the marathon hasn’t scared you away. You’ll be back and faster than before!

Liz Grec

I have to say that calling slower times ‘ugly’ isn’t really fair. I finished my first in 6:32:32 and have to say I was really proud of myself (still am). Yesterday (5 months later) I finished my second in 5:47:44. Another time I’m very happy with. I’m not training to be the fastest out there, I’m training to be healthy, and that meant that I could go out and run again today.
I think that anyone who gets out there and runs, whatever their time, should be congratulated. It takes all types of runners.

Fitz

You’re right, I think “ugly” was a bit harsh. But at a certain point, running a marathon at a certain time becomes dangerous because you’re just not prepared to cover the distance. You’re making some real progress though, keep it up!

Donna J

I’m not certain what you mean here. If I’ve trained for a marathon, I’m totally prepared to cover the distance, even if I’m covering it at a 13 minute pace instead of an 8 minute one.

Fitz

Sure, that’s fair. However at a certain pace I don’t think a marathon is safe for certain people. It’s on a case by case basis.

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