Former sports stars face their toughest challenge


Whether you're planning on watching from the comfort of your sofa, or you're going to be part of the Virgin Money London Marathon masses yourself, there are some well-known sporting faces to watch out for!

Anna Watkins may be a world-beating Olympic gold medallist, but the former rower believes that this Sunday's Virgin Money London Marathon will be her toughest challenge yet.

Watkins, who will be the official race starter alongside her double-sculls teammate Katherine Grainger, will make her marathon debut just six months after giving birth to her son, William.

"I was three months pregnant when the London Marathon was on TV last year," said Watkins. "At the time I felt like my body was being taken over so I was looking for something I could do after the pregnancy that would make me feel like me again.

"Running a marathon is so far out of my comfort zone that I know I'll feel a huge sense of achievement when I cross the line on Sunday, but it hasn't been a smooth ride.

"Being an Olympic champion gives you great confidence and bags of self-belief, so six months ago, when I started training, I thought to myself, ‘How hard can it be to run a marathon?'

"Then I started training and discovered that even though my fitness is ok, I'm pretty heavy on my feet - like a lot of rowers - so my joints have taken a pounding and I'm expecting to suffer on Sunday, but I think that shared feeling of doing something tough for a good cause is going to carry me through."

Like many runners making their marathon debut on Sunday, Watkins will be running to raise money for charity. "I lost my father-in-law to cancer just after the Beijing Olympics so I'm running for Macmillan Cancer Support."

Former footballer Michael Owen will also use his marathon debut to raise money for good causes. Owen is running for three charities - Alder Hey, Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and Prostate Cancer UK - and hopes to finish in under four hours.

"My main reason for running is to raise money for charity, but when I was thinking about retiring from football at the end of last season, I wanted something to aim for," said Owen. "I wanted to train for something and the marathon seemed like the perfect event to target.

"I've spent my life trying to improve my speed and power for sprinting, so training for a marathon has been a big challenge, but I've really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the race, especially as I've done all my training on my own."

Retired rugby player Lewis Moody echoed Watkins' words, saying his inflated sense of confidence has been a hindrance rather than a help during his marathon training.

"Like most former sports stars, I have a healthy belief in my own ability until I go out and try a new sport," said Moody.

"I did 20 miles for the first time a few weeks ago and had a full-body meltdown. The experience made me realise that I need to readjust my target time by about an hour.

"I did a half marathon in 1:38 and naively thought I could just double that time for the marathon, but I think I'll probably finish in just over four hours."

Moody will be joined on the start line on Sunday by another rugby legend, the league player Keith Senior. Having made a record 560 Super League appearances in his career, Senior today admitted that he's focusing on the mental challenge that lies ahead.

"My body felt broken before I even started training but on the day it's going to be more about mental than physical toughness," said Senior. "An OAP power walker raced past me when I was out training, which didn't do a lot for my confidence, but I'm confident I will make it to the finish line."

Marathon veteran James Cracknell offered the debutants some words of advice ahead of the race. "When you're running a marathon you have to rely on yourself, and only you know what you're capable of," he said. "So only you will know if you've given it your all."

Sky Sports presenter Charlie Webster is no stranger to giving it her all. Webster will run her fourth London Marathon on Sunday, but it will be her second big challenge of the year - at the end of January she ran 250 miles in seven days and raised £75,000 for the charity Women's Aid.

"Running the London Marathon is an extension of that challenge and I'm hoping that by running on Sunday I'll increase the total I've raised to £100,000," she said.

London_Marathon_masses.jpg blurred out