Six years to reach sub-three-hour marathon success

I met Kate Carter the week before she went to Seville and reached her goal of running her first sub-three-hour marathon. At the time of the interview I had no idea she had planned to take on the challenge just four days ahead. As Editor of the Guardian Running Blog and with a high-profile on social media, she understandably chose to go under cover!

‘As a Guardian Life and Style Editor I became aware that running was becoming a  huge thing about seven or eight years ago, before I started running myself.  Parkrun was gaining in popularity and more people were taking on challenges like couch to 5K, including my then editor, so when I suggested starting the running blog at a meeting, it was a case of perfect timing.

‘My own running started at about the same time as the Running Blog, back in 2012. I had done a bit of running before, there was one 10K which my husband had entered me into, the Nike North versus South event. It was horrific. I trained from zero to race in six weeks, and ran it in just under an hour, and the last mile was endless. I also did a triathlon in 2006, but running had never been a focus. I was cycling to and from work, there was a pool next to my office, but the run bit I really didn’t like. There was no structure to my training, I just added in a run. So, I was quite surprised when I managed to run 48 minutes for the 10K as part of the London triathlon. But none of it inspired me to continue, until I had children.

Timing it Right

‘I think running is something that you have to find at the right time for you. And I believe that’s why so many women come to it after they have had children. After breaking from work and having young children dependent on you all day with no adult conversation, many women need to find time to themselves. I didn’t start running properly until I was on maternity leave with my second daughter (Kate is the mum of two girls aged six and nine). One of the reasons I started was simply that I wanted to lose weight and get fit again. And running was an easy way to do this and much more time-efficient as there was no time spent driving to a gym or pool and getting changed. I just needed to get out the door.

Kate Carter and her daughter Lily attend the weekly 2km fun run at Wimbledom park for juniors aged 4-14.
Photo by Souvid Datta
Commissioned for DO SOMETHING

‘As well as getting fit, and giving me time to myself, I discovered I was good at running. In the first few months you gain so much, so quickly and that keeps you motivated to keep going. I started with my friend who had been a runner when she was young, and our goal was to run 10K in sub 50 minutes. I followed this with a half marathon, and managed to run it on small mileage in around 1.45.

‘My husband recognised I was getting good at this and as a birthday present he bought me a package with a coach. I met with him and he watched me run, and then for the first time I had a structured plan to follow. I also joined a running club, and even though when the girls were young I couldn’t get to all the sessions, I loved being part of a club.

Marathon Mum

‘Soon I had my eyes set on the goal of running a marathon and had planned to run Seville in February 2014, but a calf tear (the only injury I’ve had) meant I had to wait until the London marathon​ in April. My training consisted of around 40 miles a week, and I worked runs into my day, as my girls were only two and five. I often ran part of the journey to work to save time, or I’d fit in a lunch-time session. They say if you want something done, get a busy person to do it. I say if you want someone to do marathon training, get a parent to do it. It’s not easy when your children are young. I remember those long runs were so exhausting, and I’d come back from a 21-mile run to a crying two-year old and the demands of a young family.  When it came to the race, again I remember the last few miles felt like an eternity, but I wasn’t worried about it as I didn’t have a time goal and I was very pleased to finish in 3.25.

‘Running adds to our family life on so many levels. I go on holiday and run early in the morning which some people think is crazy. And I’ve been known to get off a long-haul flight and run (such as after a 24-hour flight to New Zealand)  because it freshens me up and helps me beat jet lag. I know that when I run, I’m happier, and a happier me, is a better mum. And now that the children are older we run together. In the summer we go to the track and they might time me doing laps, or do some laps themselves and then play. We also do our own circuits, and crazy yoga/dancing – they’ve learnt that exercise is fun and it’s not a transaction that’s just about calories in and calories out.


‘As I got more serious about running I started to up my mileage. I learnt early on that my body absorbs mileage and I’m lucky that I don’t seem to get injured. I’ll run at least 70 miles per week when I want to achieve a bigger goal. My progress continued and in 2014 I ran another marathon, this time in 3.11 in New York, which is a hard and slower marathon than ​some ​others.  Then in 2015 I ran 3.03 in London and finally got tantalizingly close to sub three, running, 3.00.07 in Berlin – so close –  in fact a friend told me I should just call it 2.59.67.

‘After this, in 2016 and 2017, I ran another five marathons (two in 2016 and three in 2017) some for fun, and  some that didn’t go to plan. In preparation for London in 2017 I had achieved PBs at every distance: 5K, 10 mile and half marathon. But  on the day of the race it didn’t happen for me. I think I’d peaked too soon and the timing was just off. In a marathon you can see saw between feeling great and feeling awful, and if you have a bad day, it’s not like you can go and repeat the performance the following week. But the good thing about running marathons is that it makes all other distances seem easy psychologically and physically. And things are on the up again as last week I was absolutely delighted to run a 10K PB of 38.32.

Power of the mind

‘When I’m racing, I try to focus my mind. I think about what my muscles are doing and make sure I check in on my posture. I tell my mind to shut up, especially in the first 5K, or at 16 miles when there’s still 10 miles to go. It’s important to be in control of your mind and break down the distance into manageable blocks, and to simply stay in the moment, and avoid trying to plan for what may or may not happen. I will have an internal dialogue and will always ask myself if there’s more I can give, I definitely do not want to finish a race feeling I may have left it out there.

‘When it comes to training, I’m very good at doing what I’m told. My husband likes to point out that I’m not like this in any other area of my life, But if my coach tells me to do a session, I do it. I don’t question it. I’ve learned that with running it’s a straightforward equation: you get out what you put in. And it’s worth doing. Running can add so much to  life, for busy parents it’s a great way to get much-needed head space – as well as a sense of feeling in control of life. I remember when I first ran the marathon I felt like superwoman, as if I could do anything now!

Men V Women: the race is on!

‘Long distance female runners are much closer to their male counterparts than in other sports, and the further the distance, the smaller the time difference between men and women. I often find when I’m running to and form work, a man will run a long side me and race me. Recently, a guy even decided to give me some unasked for advice about how I could improve my running stride. It was very satisfying to stop at the lights and then destroy him by running away quickly.

Getting Faster

‘I’m going for sub-three hours at the marathon again in April and then after the marathon I’d like to see if I can get faster over shorter distances and dedicate training to improving my 5K and 10K times. But first, it’s the marathon and I really hope I can do it this time.’

Now read what happened just four days later:


From Zero to World Champion Triathlete

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

At 40, Jane Hansom, was squeezing into a size 14, living a hedonistic, work-orientated busy life as an ad exec for booze and tobacco companies and doing no exercise. The challenge of taking on the London Marathon turned her life around and was the start of her journey to world champion.

‘I promise you, I did nothing, no exercise for at least 20 years. I was three stone heavier than I am now and couldn’t run for a bus, and I had started to look in the mirror, and think what’s happened?  I had natural talent and had been a swimmer and a runner at school but the lid had been firmly shut on my world champion potential. But in 2010 when a client challenged me to take on the London Marathon, I knew I couldn’t say no. I’d heard  Oprah Winfrey saying she’d read a book about how to run a marathon in four hours and I bought that and got started on training.

‘By the time the marathon came around I’d lost all the weight, was size zero, and crossed the line in under four hours. I had officially got the bug, and running became my passion. And I was good at it. In just 18 months I’d managed to run sub-three hours for the marathon in New York.

‘My approach was simple, consistently stick to my plan, and remove any barriers that could stop me running. So for example, I made sure I had a proper jacket, gloves and hat for rain and cold. And I planned in my training around work. I’d also watched some celebrities run the marathon with no preparation and it looked hideous, and I’d decided I wanted to get it over done with and not be crawling around in pain.

‘I’m a 100 per cent in, or 100 per cent out person. And if I decide I’m going to do something, I do it. I guess this helped get me to the podium places and to become world champion. In the run up to the sub-three hour race I had achieved 3.23 when I’d signed up to Runner’s World magazine’s Asics 26.2, which meant I was accountable to their online forum and so there was no way I could miss training. I was also very fortunate to be coached by the famous coach, Bud Buldaro, who taught me that I didn’t need to run every run faster, or longer than the day before and showed me how to structure marathon training. I also joined a running club, Queens Park Harriers. When I started I was one of the slowest runners there, I’m pleased to say I’m now one of the fastest.

Jane’s Marathon times

April 2010 London: 3.54

October2010 Loch Ness: 3.32

April  2011 Paris: 3.04

November 2011, New York: 2.58

April 2012, London: 2.58

The Road To Triathlon

‘With two sub-three marathons done, I was looking for my next challenge. It was my brother who suggested triathlon. He reminded me that I’d been a very good swimmer at school and that I might do well. I  worried about the bike though, as I hadn’t been on bike for 20-plus years and have never trained on a bike.

‘But I entered my first event, a sprint triathlon, held as a test event for the olympics and bought a bike on E-bay. It was the wrong size and clunky but it was good enough and I was amazed to win the race – overall! It turned out that as a good swimmer I could get ahead, then I’d get caught on the bike, but catch it all up again on the run.

‘This win boosted my confidence and was quickly followed by success in Aquathlon and a lot of other races. I took part in the Slateman race in Snowdonia, and loved it, as I enjoy races that dish out some adversity in the middle. I won the series and a two-week holiday at the very well-known training holiday camp for triathletes, Club La Santa, in Lanzarote. By now I was training harder on the bike and had joined a group of guys who cycle around Richmond Park. It was here talk of Ironman started.

‘My first reaction was, that’s way too long. But the more I raced and trained, the more it seemed like it was something I could achieve. Again as someone who likes to do things properly I wanted to be sure I had the best coach – and I found him – Brett Sutton of Tri Sutto (coach to the current world champion at Ironman, Daniela Ryf and four-time world champ Chrissie Wellington).

‘I entered Switzerland Ironman, and didn’t feel ready at all, saying to Brett that maybe I should wait. He disagreed. We decided I’d approach it as a long training session, but I went on to win my age category by 24 minutes. 

‘In doing this race I’d qualified for the world championship at Kona! I had no expectations for the race, I was just so glad to be there with 87 girls who had all won an Ironman. I didn’t over-think it, or plan too far ahead. I was there and not going to worry about unimportant things. It wasn’t until the last 10K that someone told me I was second in my age. I was so chuffed to come second and to be in the top 50 of this elite group of triathletes.


‘As the owner of my marketing agency, Sponge Marketing, I am super-busy and don’t have time to think too hard about training details. I make sure I train early in the morning between 530am and 730am every day, and often at lunch or in the evening as well, which adds up to between 15 and 20 hours training a week. To do this I have to be organised and leave my kit out the night before and make sure my food is simple and prepared in advance (my husband helps me with this). I don’t miss a session, or hit the snooze button because playing catch-up is too stressful and difficult. I know from my experience of the last seven years that consistency is the key to success.

‘It helps that I really do enjoy training. On my 49th birthday I did 40 x 100M swim reps because it’s what I love to do. I don’t train to win trophies and I’m not trying to go about collecting gongs, triathlon means so much more to me. I love the social side, the lifestyle and the community that I’m part of, and as I said I love to train!

From Runner to Triathlete

‘When I started doing triathlon I relied on a good swim and then my running ability to get me to the podium. Nowadays I never run two days in a row, which gives my body time to repair and recover. But to become a world champion I needed to focus on the bike. Cycling made me stronger overall and the net effect of being faster on the bike is obvious in triathlon as you spend more time on the bike than on the other two disciplines. I’m now accomplished at all three disciplines

‘My body shape changed. As a runner I had no bum and was skinny, but as a triathlete I’m more robust and stronger overall. I don’t need to go to the gym, as I do my strength work when I train, such as cycling in a big gear, or swimming with paddles.

Triathlon is a Great Sport for Women

‘As well as the aesthetic benefits of being a triathlete, it’s a great sport for women. Some women feel they can’t be seen in a tri suit, but if they can overcome that barrier, they will get some much from the sport. Really, who cares how you look? When I first went to Kona I felt like a hefferlump surrounded by world champions with six packs. But I soon forgot about all that. It really doesn’t matter. It’s not a beauty contest. Another problem for many is lack of time, but for me getting up early and training gives me time to switch off the stress, and to be creative, coming up with ideas and solving problems, something I don’t think I’d do by sitting on the tube, or writing a long list. You’ll never know what you can do until you try.’

Doing Buggy Miles and Making a Difference

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Becci Holdaway, 34, from Eastbourne, works as a sister at Eastbourne’s District General Hospital’s (DGH) A&E. She’s also a mum of two boys, and runner racking up ‘Buggy Miles‘ and has ambitions to run a sub-three hour marathon.

‘Running is a time when I’m not a mum, a partner, nurse – it’s time for not thinking, it’s my relaxation. Now that I have a one-year old I’m really enjoying clocking up Buggy Miles.

‘I haven’t always been a runner, my passion was dance, and as a child I danced with the Royal Ballet and then went on to the Sylvia Young theatre school. But my dad was a runner, and I had happy memories of going to watch him at the London Marathon, then the Mars London Marathon.

‘By the age of 18 dance was coming to an end and I started to run on the treadmill, building up to running 30 minutes non-stop. I then joined Crowborough Running Club and took part in the Brighton 10K, running 48 minutes without too much difficulty.

The marathon journey starts

‘I had my first child, Joshua in 2008 and  in 2009. Now settled in a new job at DGH, I was running regularly and in 2009, aged, 26, I took on my first marathon on the lapped (and slightly dull) course at Luton. I had a goal to run sub 3.30  so I felt gutted when I ran 3.31. But disappointment didn’t last long and just five months later in 2010, I ran 3.21 at London. The next goal, was sub 3.15 and by 2013 I’d run 3.16.

‘After this attempt life got busy with  a master’s degree, and then I went through divorce in 2013. There was one night when I put on my wedding dress and got smashed, but I didn’t let it drag me down for too long and running helped to get me back on track, and I focussed my energy on my next marathon in Poland. Finally, in September 2014, I achieved my sub 3.15 goal, running 3.08.

New Beginnings

‘I had just met my partner Lee, and it was great to have someone to share my training life with. He took me up on to the South Downs to train on the hills, I’m a road runner and moaned a lot at first, but training off-road got me stronger.

‘Lee is a great runner, and swimmer and has kept fit all his life, but in December 2015, his life underwent a dramatic change when he had a heart attack at The Mince Pie 10 Mile race. He’d started to feel unwell in the race, but carried on running and still managed to gain fifth place and ran 10 miles off-road in 1.03. I came in seven minutes later and placed third woman. I knew he wasn’t right when I saw him. He’d spoken to first aiders who thought he’d over exerted himself, but I knew he needed emergency help. The paramedics took an ECG but didn’t know how to read it. Luckily, I had done a cardio course and was able to see that his result showed ST elevation. In layman’s terms, the main artery to Lee’s heart was totally blocked. When we got to the hospital I had hoped the cardiologist was going to tell me I’d misread the ECG – but I’d got it right. However, it was my quick actions and knowledge that saved Lee.

Life change

‘It was a life-changing event and just three months later when I found out I was pregnant with Ted, we both felt it was right. I  felt determined to not let pregnancy stop me training and had set my goal of running Beachy Head Marathon once Ted, my baby, was born.

‘I ran all the way through my pregnancy and I’m sure it helped not just keep me in shape, but keep me in good spirits too. Just three weeks after the birth I started to run Buggy Miles with Ted. Often I’d go out after just two or three hours sleep, but a good strong coffee and getting my foot out the door was all it took and soon I was making progress.

‘When maternity leave finished, I went back to work three to four days a week after. Then I started to do some intervals by myself and kept the Buggy Miles easy, establishing a good aerobic base of fitness. In October 2017, just 11 months  postpartum, I ran 3.43 at Beachy Head Marathon (a tough off-road marathon that includes the Seven Sisters’ cliffs), taking sixth female place, and having a really brilliant day from start to finish.

Taking Positive Action

‘I love running and I love Parkrun. Joshua, my (just) 10-year old son, has also go the bug and has just started doing Junior Parkrun. Running is also a great way to bring people together and raise money for charity and with this in mind, I decided to do something positive.

‘In 2017 three of my colleagues were diagnosed with terminal cancer and another young person I knew died at the end of 2017 in the care of the hospice. In A&E we’re like a family and we all wanted to feel we were doing something. As a regular parkrunner I decided it was time to take positive action and came up with the idea of an A&E parkrun takeover. We had #TeamA&E t-shirts made up and got everyone involved. Staff who’d never run before gave up smoking, got fit and got into running (and kept at it after). On the day (November 11 2017), we had: local radio; an ice cream van ; a mascot, ‘Wifie Bear’; sports massage; and hundreds of runners in #TeamA&E t-shirts. We managed to raise £6,000 for St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne and McMillan Cancer.

‘I have lots of running ambitions and want to get as fast as I can over the next two years, whilst still spending time with my boys. I’m very disciplined about my training, Lee might say I’m a bit OCD! I do three sessions of Buggy Miles every week, to build by baseline of fitness, and the rest of the time by myself I run faster threshold or interval sessions. I do shifts so have to take my running times and stick with them and I’m often out of bed at 530am, and after a caffeine shot I’m out the door. Lee is really supportive and he plans my training for me – and once he’s planned it, I do it. The goal is to run a sub 1.25 half marathon, and keep doing the Buggy Miles, and then when Ted starts school, I’ll revisit the marathon – I’d love to try for a sub-three hour marathon. I’m motivated by the push of a new goal, and I absolutely love running, so why not?’