Looking Back at 25: CRY’s history at the London Marathon

CRY’s supporters have taken part in countless different fundraising activities and events since the charity was founded 25 years ago, and one of the key events where our support has continued to grow over the years is the London Marathon.

In 1996, just a year after CRY was founded, nine runners took part in the Marathon for us. A year later in 1997, that number soared to 56. We recognised and thanked all of our runners in the CRY Update magazine. And in 1997, we held an event afterwards to celebrate.

“After the marathon we had a special CRY Celebration Dinner organised, with a harpist soothing the excitement, for runners and their supporters,” CRY Founder Alison Cox said when looking back at CRY’s early years at the London Marathon. “They were all awarded medals and certificates and lots of photos were taken, which of course needed to be shown in the Update!”

We have always greatly appreciated the commitment of supporters to complete their training and the run itself, and raise so much money and awareness for CRY. Over the years, our representation at the marathon has continued to grow, and there have been plenty of memorable stories along the way.

CRY Patron and former rugby player Simon Halliday, who played centre for Bath and England, has been a long-time supporter of the charity. He’s been raising awareness and funds for CRY in memory of Sebastian English and his father, Howard, who died suddenly in 1993 while playing rugby for Esher, where Simon was coaching at the time. In 2009, Simon decided to take on the London Marathon. “I had wanted to put in a sprint finish, but there was nothing in the tank and I crossed the line at a fast plod, with a big smile on my face,” Simon said one week after crossing the finish line. “Collecting the medal, having a picture taken, accepting the goody bag and staggering toward the ‘meet and greet’ area were hazy memories and I didn’t feel too special. However, the CRY helpers were on hand, and it was back to the hotel they had booked for a massage, shower and a cup of tea. Blissful.”

<em>Alan and Emma Blair after the 2013 London Marathon<em>

Some of our supporters have gone even further than just completing the run, taking on world record attempts in the process. For instance, in 2013, Alan and Emma Blair both became Guinness World Record holders. Emma set the fastest time for running in a nurse’s uniform, while Alan set the record for the fastest time running as an internal organ. Of course, he did this in one of CRY’s heart costumes!

2015 was full of memorable moments. Another one of our Patrons, BBC News presenter Ben Brown, ran the marathon for the first time in memory of Claire Prosser and Tom Clabburn. This was also the year a couple of our supporters decided to make this event even more difficult… Actor Joe Street and Evan Phillips, both Welsh International Australian Rules Football players, started their running challenge at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea on April 11th. 240 miles later on April 26th, they reached London to complete the marathon. And to cap off the day, two of CRY’s runners, Laura and Adam, even got engaged at the finish line.

In 2017, Mims Davies MP took part for the first time to raise awareness for CRY. Mims has been a strong supporter of the charity since hearing of the story of Graham and Anne Hunter, who lost their daughter, Claire Reed, suddenly in 2013.

CRY Patron Bill Neely, Chief Global Correspondent for NBC News, has been one of our tireless supporters at this event. In 2019, Bill completed his 10th straight London Marathon for CRY in memory of Katrina Brown, who he tragically witnessed collapsing close to the finish line of the 2006 British 10k.

CRY’s doctors also have a strong connection to the marathon. CRY Consultant Cardiologist Professor Sanjay Sharma has been a vital part of the event as the Medical Director of the London Marathon since 2007. Meanwhile, former CRY Research Fellows Dr Aneil Malhotra and Dr Gemma Parry Williams completed in the event in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

One of our supporters used this year’s 2.6 Challenge – which was created to support the UK’s charity’s through the COVID-19 pandemic as the typical London Marathon had to be postponed – to prepare for a world record attempt when the regular event returned. Phil Sweatman has been supporting CRY since 2016 following the sudden death of close family friend Ben Hammond. Phil was aiming to become the fastest man to run a marathon dressed as a heavy goods vehicle, and completed his 2.6-mile run for the 2.6 Challenge not just in his tractor costume, but running backwards as well!

<em>Mark Orchard Neil Ditch and Terry Brokenshire at the 2001 London Marathon <em>

“I’m very proud to be taking on the 2.6 Challenge to support the vital work of CRY during these turbulent times,” Phil said before the event back in April. “This opportunity will only make me more motivated to raise as much money and awareness for the charity as I can.”

Throughout CRY’s participation in the London Marathon, our many runners who have donned the CRY heart costume have been instrumental in raising awareness. This started to take off in 2001 when we set a new record for runners with 118. This put us in the top 5% in participants among all charities taking part, and included 16 runners wearing the CRY heart costume. Mark Orchard, Neil Ditch and Terry Brokenshire, three firefighters from Dorset, joined two other CRY runners to cross the start line together. As they did, they were approached by cameras and recorded an interview for BBC News, sharing the image of our heart costumes and word of CRY on national news.

From this date forward, we continued to raise more awareness at the marathon, with our supporters in their CRY heart costumes always standing out. Mat Wilson has completed the marathon in the costume multiple times. He was the first supporter in the costume to cross the finish line back in 2001, and a few years later in 2004, he completed the event in not just a heart costume, but with the CRY logo attached to his back, raised in the air for all to see.

<em>Mat Wilson running the 2004 London Marathon<em>

From 1996 to 2019, a staggering total of 2,182 runners participated in the London Marathon in support of CRY. And while doing so, they have raised a phenomenal total of over £3,362,000!

CRY simply wouldn’t have had such a successful history at the London Marathon without the amazing efforts of our runners, the friends and family who support them, and the volunteers who come along on the day to help everything run smoothly.

The 2020 marathon was finally able to take place on October 4. Even with restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the event from taking place as normal for members of the public, over 100 CRY supporters are still completing their own marathon-distance runs all around the UK. From Wales, to Scotland, to London itself and all over England, CRY runners were out and about on the day, also spreading awareness with their posts on social media and even some local TV news appearances as well.

CRY Chief Executive Dr Steven Cox expressed his gratitude for all those who have taken part in the event over the years: “For the past 25 years we have been continually inspired by the many people who sign up to run the London Marathon on behalf of CRY and overwhelmed by the generosity of their friends, family and colleagues who support them.

“On behalf of everyone at CRY, I would like to say a big thank you.”

If you’d like to enter the ballot for the 2021 event, please click here.