Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows that it can take you right up to the edge of collapse. Perfect pacing, especially in the last mile, is like a high stakes game of blackjack – trying to take it as far as possible without going over. At the London Marathon on Sunday, Hayley Carruthers, an elite runner and full-time NHS nurse from Birmingham, decided to go all in.
“I started counting my steps and my head was gone, I think I lost sight in one eye,” Hayley said to the BBC after a video of her collapsing two meters before the finish line went viral. While the internet was abuzz with the images of a runner crawling towards her singular goal, Strava wanted to get in touch with Hayley and meet the athlete behind those inspiring images.
One of the things that’s most striking is the way Hayley’s legs give out, but her will to get across the line as quickly as possible is unwavering. We asked her what she was thinking in that moment.
“I think any runner would have that reaction,” Hayley said. “You haven’t run 42,193 meters to stop with 2 meters to go. You just get to the line by any means possible. I even remember trying to swing my chip towards the line. My coach had even joked beforehand about getting the chip over the line at all costs. I don’t think either of us expected it to come down to that!”
One of the most stunning displays of Hayley’s commitment is when she swings her body sideways to get that chip across the line as quickly as possible. And it paid off: Hayley finish in a personal best of 02:33:59.
Even prior to collapsing, Hayley’s form was clearly starting to come apart. We asked her, what was going through your head in the last mile of the race?
“I was actually thinking fairly clearly, it was just that my body wasn’t responding,” she said. “I tried to just focus on form and keep moving forward as best I could. It was just a matter of getting to the finish however possible.”
While the display Hayley put on in the final meters of the race put a very fine point on the sort of determination it takes to be an elite runner (or any kind of runner for that matter), training for and racing the marathon demands repeated answers to the question: how bad do you want it? We asked Hayley what she does to train her mental strength.
“My coach also does research on Sports Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton and so it is something we have always worked on,” she said. “I think I am naturally highly motivated and so it’s about developing strategies that let me harness that motivation and get the most out of myself when the physical sensations are unpleasant. We talk a lot about reframing those feelings from a negative like “this is painful” to something more positive like “I want to be working hard, this is how it should feel.”
Despite a brief moment in the limelight, Hayley went right back to her day job at the NHS where she works as a cancer research radiographer. “I’m just more motivated than ever to rest up and get back to training,” she said.
Don’t worry guys! I am a’ok! Back to reality… 🏥 #doublelife pic.twitter.com/ba03G05zaQ
— Hayley Carruthers (@mileswithhayley) April 29, 2019
But what drives Hayley to keep coming back to the marathon?
“It’s obviously an iconic distance and there is so much history involved,” she said. “If you are racing the marathon or going for a time there is a very small margin for error in pacing or fuelling (as I proved). Just as much though, it is a hugely challenging distance to cover by foot. I have so much respect for the runners who are out there for 5 hours plus. It takes tremendous focus and willpower to work towards a goal for such a long period of time. In many ways I think that’s a more admirable achievement.”