Pop music and distance running aren’t so different. Both reward tenacity, hard work, and the willingness to wear skimpy clothing and push your body to its physical limits. No wonder so many rock stars have done marathons. There are few athletic contests more badass than the 26.2-mile run — an event that dates back to 490 BC, when a young dude named Pheidippides carried the news of an Athenian military victory by covering the now-classic distance from Marathon to his home city. Legend has it that when he reached Athens, P-Dipp declared, “We have won!” and promptly dropped dead.
In anticipation of the upcoming 2014 TCS New York City marathon on Sunday, Nov. 2, we’re honoring 14 musicians who’ve fared better with their marathon adventures. Not only have they survived, but many have huffed and puffed for worthwhile causes. Read on to see which music stars have donned tank tops and short shorts for purely athletic reasons.
Björn Ulvaeus, ABBA, 1980 Stockholm Marathon
Before ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Songwriting Contest with “Waterloo,” one of its many bedazzling smashes, Bjorn figured his gut would keep the group from achieving global stardom. “When I saw pictures of myself I realized I was a bit fat,” he told the Telegraph earlier this year. “To be a pop idol required a certain kind of body — particularly if I was going to wear jump suits.” By 1980, he’d lost the paunch and become a first-rate runner. His time of 3:23:54 is nearly as impressive as the 380 million albums ABBA have sold worldwide.
Joe Strummer, 1982 Paris Marathon (Allegedly), 1981 and 1983 London Marathons
In April 1982, as the Clash prepared to drop Combat Rock, its lionhearted frontman went on the lamb. Manager Bernie Rhodes had suggested a publicity stunt, and Strummer went one better, hiding out in Paris and allegedly running the city’s marathon with a time of 3:20. Strummer had done London the year before, and he tackled that race again in ’83, so the story is plausible. The best part is Joe’s supposed training regimen. “Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race,” he told Steppin’ Out magazine in 1999. “Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least four weeks before the race … But make sure you put a warning in this article, ‘Do not try this at home.’ I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thompson, but it might not work for others. I can only tell you what I do.”
Stuart Murdoch, 1986 Glasgow Marathon
It could have been a brilliant career in athletics for Murdoch, who ran an amazing 2:57:08 at the age of 18. Years later, while at university, he became ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that’s what ultimately led him to take up music and form the beloved indie-pop troupe Belle and Sebastian. Among the gentle Glaswegians’ most beloved tunes is “The Stars of Track and Field,” whose subjects Murdoch rightfully dubs “the most beautiful people in the world.”
Mike Malinin, 2000 San Francisco Marathon
The drummers are always the weird ones. Malinin joined the Goo Goo Dolls in ’95, and on subsequent world tours, he’d explore cities not by stumbling from bar to bar, but by going on long runs. To date, Malinin has done at least five marathons, and in 2000, he conquered the streets of San Francisco in 3:23:56. In his own healthy, hyper-disciplined way, he’s a rebel. “It’s kind of my own thing,” he told Arizona’s Easy Valley Tribune in 2011. “The guys don’t really give me a hard time about it, but they don’t quite understand it either.”
Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, 2003 New York City Marathon
Diddy did it, and he did so for the kids. After a highly publicized fund-raising campaign that netted $2 million for NYC public schools and a pair of children’s charities, the hip-hop mogul rocked a mohawk, weathered leg cramps and a bad knee, and traversed the five boroughs in 4:14:54. “I’ve never experienced mental or physical pain like that,” he said afterward. “But it was a beautiful experience.”
Nick Hexum, 2006 Los Angeles Marathon
“I’ve run marathons,” the 311 frontman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2014. “They say the actual [race] day is the victory lap. All the hard work comes in the preparation and training.” Dude knows what he’s talking about. In 2006, the “All Mixed Up” singer found his way through the streets of L.A. in 5:29:44, all in the name of his Liberal Hexum charity.
Dexter Holland, 2006 Los Angeles Marathon
“All I want to do is beat Oprah [Winfrey],” the Offspring singer told MTV before lacing up for the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to exonerate individuals wrongly convicted of crimes. He fell short of the erstwhile Queen of Daytime’s 4:29:30 performance at the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon, but his 5:01:07 was pretty fly for a 40-something SoCal punk rocker with a sideline in molecular biology.
Josh Ritter, 2006 New York City Marathon
On November 5, 2006, Josh Ritter did more than just run from Staten Island to Central Park in 3:54:46. The acclaimed singer-songwriter followed that performance with an hour-long acoustic show at Manhattan’s Cutting Room. It must’ve been tough, but years later, he told the website Writing.ie why running 26.2 was easier than penning his debut novel, 2011’s Bright Passage. “[T]here were times when you’re in a long run, you run fifteen miles in a town somewhere, it’s late, and it feels very much like those times when you’re in a slog of the middle of a draft and it feels like the end is as far away as the moon,” Ritter said. “And those two feelings are very similar but the payoff is the same. An amazing feeling.”
Alanis Morissette, 2009 Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon
There’s no “You Oughta Know”-style angst while Alanis is out on the trails. As she told Runner’s World just before the 2009 Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon, which she finished in 4:17:03, she feels an intense “vulnerability” while she’s running, and that influences her exercise playlist. “I feel like such fertile soil when I’m working out, so what I’m listening to almost takes on this whole other level of importance,” she said. “I can’t listen to music or lyrics that frustrate me or aren’t on my wavelength because I get a little freaked out and I have to change the song immediately.”
Johnny Marr, 2010 New York Marathon
Like Malinin of the Goo Goo Dolls, this legendary Smiths guitarist and decidedly un-rowdy rocker loves to hit the road while he’s on the road. “When I go out, I do 10 miles,” he told the Guardian in 2013, a few years after completing the New York City Marathon in 3:54:18. “If I’ve got decent time between a soundcheck and a gig, I’ll do 15, sometimes 18. I try and time my run so I finish 20 minutes before a gig, and I’m hopping around.” You’ve got to get hopped up somehow.
Flea, 2011 and 2012 Los Angeles Marathons
Hoofing it on behalf of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, which provides music lessons and instruments for low-income kids in L.A., the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist clocked 3:53:00 in 2011, raising $67,272 in the process. The next year, he trimmed not one, but nearly 12 hot minutes, finishing in 3:41:49.
Ben Gibbard, 2011 Los Angeles Marathon
Gibbard began running in 2007, when he realized unhealthy living had taken its toll. By 2011, the Death Cab for Cutie singer had worked up to marathon shape. “I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but it really did change my life,” Gibbard told Runner’s World, commenting on his 3:56:34 trek through the ‘hoods of his adopted city. “I’m not the kind of person who ever, five years ago, would’ve dreamed of doing something like this. The sense of accomplishment was just overwhelming. It made me realize anything is possible.”
Bernard Butler, 2014 London Marathon
In America, Butler and his Suede cohorts are Britpop also-rans. In the U.K., they’re superstars who also run — or at least guitarist Bernard Butler does. Earlier this year, he completed the London Marathon in 4:30:12, hauling in £2,120.00 for the Bobath Centre, a resource for children with cerebral palsy.
Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood, 2014 Boston Marathon
In April 2014, with their New Kids on the Block bandmate Donnie Wahlberg cheering and tweeting from the sidelines, Joey and Danny did their hometown wicked proud, finishing the Beantown 26.2-miler in 3:48:11 and 3:50:00, respectively. Joey, who’d also run the year before, raised more than $40,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association, while Danny collected cash for the Betty Wood Breast Cancer Foundation, named for his mother, who died from the disease in 1999.