With the 40th London marathon due to have taken place this weekend, we decided to speak to marathon ‘Ever Present’ Chris Finill for a little boost of inspiration. Chris has completed every single London Marathon - that’s 39 and counting. He told us more about this remarkable feat and how running has shaped his life.
Born in the London borough of Harrow in 1958, running has always played a key role in his life. “From a young age, I would run to the local corner shop to buy cigarettes for my mum - which you could do back then! - and time myself to see how quickly I could run there and back. After I joined Harrow AC at 14, I realised it was something I wanted to take seriously - and I’ve never looked back.”
After running 16 miles to celebrate his 16th birthday, Chris discovered his passion for distance running. Completing his first marathon in Michigan in 1979, it wasn’t long before the first London marathon was announced for 29th March 1981. “Entering that first London marathon was almost a no-brainer for me,” says Chris, “I'd run a couple of marathons already and had been running competitively for a number of years. That very first marathon was a much smaller event - around 7,000 runners compared to over 40,000 today. Over the years, it has moved away from being a club focused event and now has many more people running for charities, which is just brilliant.”
Crossing the finish line in 1983
He vividly recalls plenty of highlights over the years, including his impressive PB of 2:28 in 1985, running the 30th-anniversary marathon in 2010 with his wife, Julia and receiving a Guinness World Record in 2013 for achieving 33 consecutive sub-3 hour marathons - a formidable record that he still holds today. One race he remembers for slightly different reasons was 2018, when he fell at the fourth mile and broke his arm in 4 places. “Running for another 22 miles with a broken arm was definitely a challenge - but I still finished!” he laughs.
(L-R) Meeting Paula Radcliffe at her last London Marathon in 2015, receiving his Guinness World Record certificate in 2013 and post-marathon with a broken arm in 2018.
Arguably one of the biggest highlights for Chris came in 1995, after completing his 15th London marathon. To mark the occasion, the event organisers decided to designate the 42 runners who had run every London marathon as the ‘Ever Presents’ - presenting them with a commemorative medal and guaranteed entry to the London Marathon for the rest of their lives, as long as they continued to complete the race every year.
As of 2020, just 10 Ever Presents remain, many of whom are in their late 70s - or mid-80s in one case. At 61, Chris is the youngest and this year marks a certain significance for many in the group. “2020 was a big goal for a lot of us, as it’s the 40th anniversary,” he says: “We’re all getting on a bit now, so there’s always an uncertainty about whether we’ll be fit enough to take part every year. I’d love to make 50 London marathons, but you really do have to take it year by year.”
The Ever Presents ahead of the 2018 London marathon
With the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak forcing the 2020 marathon to be postponed until October, Chris remains upbeat: “Naturally, I’m feeling a little disappointed, but it’s one of those things. It’s more important that we’re staying safe at the moment. I’m easing off my training for now with the goal to build it up again during the summer with some longer, tougher runs.”
“I usually run around 35-40 miles every week and racing makes up a large part of my regular training. Once I knew the marathon was being postponed, I adjusted my training routine to a slower pace. Right now, my training is focused around keeping fit and remaining injury free - hopefully, I’ll have a good race in October!”
At the 30th anniversary marathon in 2010 with wife Julia (right) and sister-in-law Sue
With so many marathons under his belt, one key piece of advice has stuck with him over the years: “Hold back!” he says, “At the start of a marathon when you’re fresh and full of energy, it’s so easy to set off too quickly - it's something that has taken me many years to learn. You then run the second half of the race in a much more positive frame of mind, as you’re able to overtake people rather than being overtaken!”
Receiving the Spirit of London medal in February 2020 alongside the remaining Ever Presents. Only around 50 people have been awarded this medal in the marathons 40-year history.
“For people who were hoping to run their first marathon this year, my advice would be to back off the training at the moment, as that can come back in at a later stage. With everything that’s happening at the moment, it's important not to overtrain and push yourself too far. As long as you keep training consistently and regularly, you should be in good shape for when the race takes place.”
And finally, what are the three words that sum up running for Chris? “I would say soulful, liberating and purifying,” says Chris, with a smile, “Running has always been something that brings me a lot of joy and is such an important part of my life - and I hope it will continue to be for many years to come.”
In 2011, Chris and his friend Steve ran across the USA in 79 days. You can read more about their adventure in their recent book, Across America on Foot: 27 Stories of Adventure, Endurance and Inspiration.