Legend has it that 666 is the number of the beast. If the beast has 3 horns, and each of those horns represents 1 of those 6s, it’s a good bet that for runners, 1 of those horns embodies the 6 marathon majors. How else can you describe the hell one goes through to achieve the hallowed goal of running all 6? I caught up with Junior Robbani, of Run Dem Crew, to find out.
AWM: What are the 6 marathon majors?
J: You’ve got 6 world majors. In the order I’ve done them: Tokyo which takes place in February, London in April, Berlin in September, Chicago in October, New York in November and the final crowning glory is Boston in April, but you have to run a qualifying time for that race. I have yet to achieve that, but I’ve run the others.
AWM: For many, 1 marathon is a lifetime’s achievement. Why run 6?
J: Just before Tokyo, I’d done 6 half-marathons and I thought I was ready for a full marathon. I did enough training to get round, running 3 days a week: Tuesday Run Dem, Thursday Track East, Sunday long run, at a nice, easy pace, staple diet. This was enough for my first but the experience showed me there was more I could do.
AWM: What made you decide to do Tokyo and what was it like?
J: I’d never been to Tokyo or the Far East, until February 2014. It was something I’d always wanted to do, growing up, watching anime but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d make my way over there. The catalyst was me, you and Jason Lawrence all watching The Last Samurai at my house… you said the Tokyo Marathon’s coming up, we should all enter.
AWM: I forgot that.
J: The three amigos entered, Jason and I got in, so it was the first marathon for both of us. As it’s a February marathon, your training comprises of running in dark, cold weather after work- it’s not attractive. You have to get your miles in whatever the weather. Just make sure you dress right, train right, stretch and foam roll.
AWM: What was next?
J: London was next in April 2015. It didn’t materialise straight away; I’d been applying for 4 years prior to Tokyo and not gotten in. I kept saying to myself #makeshithappen, so I got a charity place. I ran for Sense, raising money for deaf and blind children and adults, which the company I was working for at the time, kindly doubled. Raising money is not easy, but I managed to do it.
The experience of running at home was unreal. Run Dem Crew gave me life at Mile 21; I was grateful for the big heads and support. Running the actual route in training really helped on race-day with the mental side. I upped the volume of my training from 3 to 5 days- big difference- and it resulted in several injuries, so my advice is to gradually go up.
AWM: Next was Berlin?
J: Yes, in September 2015, and for Berlin I had the perfect run-up to the race. I’m Muslim, so because of Ramadan I lost a month of training from my 16 week plan, but when I came back I felt refreshed. I know other people train during Ramadan, but it’s not for me; in fact, I find it quite difficult to fast, so that’s enough to deal with.
Berlin is an amazing place. In 2017, I’m running that marathon for the third year in a row. The vibes are fantastic, and there’s great weather and conditions, as Berlin’s a flat marathon- you can speed round and have a great time. The sights you see as you run, the people of Berlin, the crews out there… there’s so much love from the Bridge the Gap movement. I pulled out a 3:38 Personal Best. It’s just fantastic.
AWM: So next was Chicago?
J: Chicago was 2 weeks later, in October 2015, with my friend Tika. I wondered how I’d even be able to do it. After a marathon, most people allow 26 days to recover, but I repeated the last 2 weeks of my Berlin plan with the target of getting round sub 4, which I managed. I felt the fittest I ever have, doing 3 marathons in 1 year.
AWM: And the last one you did was New York, right?
J: Yep, November 2016. Like London, I’d been trying to get in for years via the ballot, but I had to throw money at it to #makeshithappen. I got a charity place again, got my flights sorted out, stayed in an AirBnB with Tika, and had an amazing time. The timing of the marathon meant we were in the States when Trump was elected, which was quite an experience.
New York Marathon is very hilly. I did not train for hills so it found me out, plus I kept getting injured in the build-up. I ran Berlin for the second time in September 2015 and had a bad experience, where I nearly gave up halfway. Eventually, I got through and ground it out. That gave me confidence I would get round New York, even if I needed to walk some of the way. I had no time goal, and in fact this was my slowest ever marathon, at 4:15.
AWM: That’s still faster than my PW of 4:26.
J: The vibes, the people, the crews in New York were amazing. You run through 5 different boroughs. You start going all the way to Staten Island, getting up at 4am. People were taking pictures on the ferry en route, but I was zen, sitting in a sea of calm till we got there. Then we got on a bus to be transferred to the start on the Verrazano Bridge, with helicopters above. People nearly got taken out at the start because of the madness and hype. But this race was just about getting through. It had a vibe.
AWM: So, Boston’s still to come. Is it Boston or bust? Do you have to get the 6 or could you just retire now?
J: It’s Boston or bust. I need to take half an hour off my PB to qualify. Plan B is to go down the charity place route. Then I can get the 6 star finisher’s medal.
J: But I would prefer to do it honourably because Boston is held in such high regard. I’m not the quickest and I do like my gym and football, which maybe don’t help me as a runner. But if you’re trying to run a BQ, it’s not easy, having to put in proper speed sessions, being targeted and specific, your diet, your training plan.
I’m actually reading books now on how to run a marathon, after my 7th or 8th marathon (laughs), such as Advanced Marathoning. Knowledge is power. I’m trying different things, keeping up with training and base level fitness, and hopefully it’s all going to pay off.
AWM: Any marathon’s a huge commitment. How do you fit all this in around work? How do you keep your partner happy when you’re travelling the world doing marathons? People might like to run 6 marathon majors, but logistically, to do what you’ve done is amazing.
J: There’s certainly a lot of compromise, of give and take. My wife is a very understanding lady. And I’m very stubborn- if I want to do something, it’s going to happen- it’s just a question of how.
This year, 2017, I’m running Berlin marathon again. It’s in September, it’s a weekend, so you fly out on the Friday, pick up your race pack, on the Saturday, chill, Sunday do the run, Sunday night party, Monday, fly back. Job’s a good’n.
Chicago will be longer. I’ll have to plan out where I’m going to stay through AirBnB. Then I’ll see what’s going on in the city when I’m there, hang out with the crew. Big love to Three Run Two.
AWM: So, 6 marathon majors is a life-time goal. Is it an experience you’re enjoying? Would you recommend it? Do you need a little bit of devil in you to achieve it?
J: Without a shadow of a doubt. Major marathons give you a chance to explore some of the world’s greatest cities. There’s an element of earning prestigious medals, but there’s more to it; some of these races are easy to get into (I’m looking at you, Berlin), some not so easy. You’re going to have to ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to make these things happen.
It all comes down to the hashtag, doesn’t it?