Rory Coleman only started running when he was 31, but 24 years later he’s just run his 1,000th marathon. He’s also completed almost 250 ultra marathons, including 14 Marathons des Sables. He has set nine treadmill world records and once ran 43 ultras in 43 days.
What led you to start running?
I remember the day: January 5, 1994. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw: a 15st drinker and 40-a-day smoker. I just knew I needed to go for a run rather than to the pub. I didn’t have any kit so I ran in my work clothes, and leather shoes, and collapsed on the pavement about 100 paces later. It didn’t matter. I’d found my thing.
Where was your first marathon?
Telford, 1995 – 4:04:16. At the halfway point, I couldn’t see any other runners, either ahead or behind. I asked one of the marshals if I was winning. He nearly died laughing.
How many of the 1,000 do you remember?
All of them. I have one of those almost photographic minds, where I remember places, faces, numbers, everything. I can remember what I did on those 1,000 days. All the little races that no longer exist; the places I visited that I would not otherwise have gone to in a million years.
Fastest and slowest marathons?
Fastest: March 3, 1996. The Borders Marathon. I absolutely caned it and got 3:24:21. And that after a 42-mile ultra the week before. I was just so fit. That’s the time I’m going to chip into my headstone. The slowest was probably the marathon stage of the Marathon des Sables (MdS) I did with Sir Ranulph Fiennes. We ran pretty much shoulder to shoulder the whole way and I ended up visiting Downing Street with him afterwards: me, a reformed fat guy and drinker, at Downing Street with a national treasure.
What's so special about the marathon?
I grew up in the 1960s and remember watching the great marathon runners of the era, like Abebe Bikila. It’s just such a magical distance and so strategic. I really like the journey and every marathon is such an accomplishment. No-one can take a marathon away from you. I’ve won 1,000 times because I’ve always reached the finish line.
What's the biggest error newbies make?
They don’t do their apprenticeship. It’s like they’re trying to swim the Channel having only done a few lengths. You have to invest a lot of time in long, slow distance running to turn your little 1-litre engine into a 6.5-litre diesel; then start to mix in speed sessions. Most marathon runners don’t want to do speed sessions because they’re horrible.
Do you have a favourite race?
The Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham. It’s the road race I’ve done the most and where I did my 300th, my 500th and my 1,000th. It’s well done, and there’s lots to see.
Do you get recognised at races now?
It’s fairly common these days, particularly given my coaching. I’ve coached 1,000 people to their MdS medal.
Roll on the next 1,000?
I don’t know about that but I’ll certainly keep going. I want to continue to enjoy it. I’ve got friends running marathons well into their 70s, so why not? But I’m less concerned about times and numbers these days. What I do now is only important to one person – and that’s me.