In the early months of 2013, former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and his wife, Ruth, began training for that year’s Virgin Money London Marathon. Strauss had just stopped playing the game he loved and needed a challenge. Ruth had never been a runner, but they wanted to spend as much time together as possible. They went out in all weathers.
Usually they ran near their home in Marlow, up and down parts of the Thames Path. The distances got longer and longer as the race date approached. “To get through it together,” Strauss says, “like all those things marathon trainers have to go through, shin splints, blisters, really long runs, and getting each other through that was brilliant.”
They started the race together, but didn’t finish it together. That had never been the plan. “Chivalry was very much out the window there,” Strauss says, smiling at the memory. “I saw her at the end and that was something extraordinary. I felt it was a brilliant bonding experience for us. She was delighted. She had never run before and now she had run a marathon.
Former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss will run the London Marathon in memory of his wife Ruth
Strauss had started training for the London Marathon with his wife in 2013, but only she completed it
“We agreed to do it on a drunken night out with a friend of ours and the next morning Ruth was deeply sorry, but she had the tenacity to persevere. It was a shared challenge. When the race started I got my head down and got into the performance mindset, but I think now if you do too much of that you miss a little bit.”
In early 2018, nearly five years after she ran that marathon, Ruth was diagnosed with an incurable form of lung cancer that affects non-smokers. She was 46 years old. She died in late December of that year when their sons, Sam and Luca, were 13 and 10, but not before drawing up a blueprint for a charity to provide emotional support to families as they prepare for the death of a parent.
Shortly after running the London Marathon, Strauss had said he would never do it again. “It was one to check off the bucket list and not repeat under any circumstances,” he said a few months later. But last Thursday I sat with him at a table in the ExCeL, where he had just picked up his bib number for Sunday’s event.
Ruth died of incurable lung cancer in 2018 and Strauss will now run the London Marathon for the Ruth Strauss Foundation
Last time he ran with Ruth. This time he is walking for Ruth and for the Ruth Strauss Foundation, which has already become a widely admired charity. Distance running is an emotional thing anyway, partly because of the effort involved, but it takes it to another level when you’re running for a good cause and for a loved one.
One of the many moving things about an event like the London Marathon is seeing the thousands of people running with a picture of a father, mother, wife, husband, son or daughter on their vest. For so many, running the marathon is a way of paying tribute to someone they have lost, a show of love, devotion and dedication through a different kind of suffering.
I have only a fleeting experience of it. In 2008, I ran the New York Marathon as part of a group raising money for the Geoff Thomas Foundation, which the former Crystal Palace midfielder founded after he was diagnosed with leukemia. The night before the race, we sat in a temporary grandstand in Times Square and listened to Geoff make an impromptu speech.
He talked about a child he had met who was suffering from leukemia and the courage she had shown as she fought to recover. He reminded us that it was people like her that we ran and raised money for. On some basic level, it helped me take the course the next day. When I felt it getting too painful, I thought about what that girl was going through. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but that was the fastest marathon I’ve ever run.
Strauss says he feels running the marathon this weekend will bring him closer to Ruth again
“Reliving this marathon experience makes me remember Ruth and remember what we went through together as we got ready for the run eight years ago,” says Strauss. ‘Running a marathon is an emotional experience anyway. You get caught up in that emotion whether you’re running or supporting.
“I feel like it brings me closer to Ruth again. Life goes on and life is busy and to have the opportunity to step back and remember that experience and those moments is really valuable both to me and to the guys. They are now 15 and 13 and I was talking to them recently about whether they remember we ran the marathon.
“They said they remembered we being interviewed on television and it’s indelibly etched in their minds too. I try not to use that emotion as a driver to set an incredibly fast time or anything. It’s just to be a part of it and to know that there are other people for the foundation as well, that’s all hugely important.
‘I’ll be thinking about her a lot. I definitely feel there are times when – be it the red one for Ruth Day at Lord’s or whatever – you feel like she looks down on us and she would be very proud of what me and the boys have done since her death and I think this will be another such opportunity.
“She will encourage us and take pride in helping people going through something similar. When we talked about it last night, I told the boys they’ll have to run a marathon someday, and neither of them seemed happy with the prospect.’
And so Strauss will take his place on the starting line on Sunday in his red Ruth Strauss Foundation running shirt with his white heart and white R on it. His run is a feat of endurance, but it’s also a love story, just as it will be for so many others. He’ll be slower, he says, than the last time he ran, but somehow he’ll have Ruth to keep him company along the way.
We will always have Paris, Leo
There was something particularly beautiful about Lionel Messi’s goal for Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City on Tuesday night at the Parc des Princes.
It was about more than Messi’s first run, Kylian Mbappe’s beautiful one-touch lay-off and the precise, curling finish that rippled the roof of the net.
Lionel Messi’s goal for PSG against Manchester City sparked an explosion of relief
For the first time in his glorious career, Messi’s genius has seemed fragile and fragile since his painful departure from Barcelona. The first seeds of fear began to creep in – maybe it was over, maybe his genius wouldn’t travel, maybe he left it in Catalonia.
When Messi scored, it was as much an explosion of relief as it was a burst of excitement. The joy of watching the greatest player in the world survived his move. It will be there to enrapture us for some time to come.
UEFA and a school for racism
Lesson No. 512 in why players are still getting on their knees: Sparta Prague was set to play their Europa League game against Rangers at the Letna stadium behind closed doors last week as punishment for a Monaco player who was racially abused there last season.
Instead, UEFA allowed 10,000 fans, mostly schoolchildren, to attend and they responded by jeering Rangers’ Glen Kamara, six months after he was subjected to racial abuse by Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela.
Great job from UEFA all round, turning what should have been a punishment into a workshop for a new generation of racist fans. And people wonder why players despair of the authorities’ ability to deal with the problem.
UEFA made a big mistake by not letting Sparta Prague play behind closed doors