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Distance runs ‘only thing I can do’ says woman training for 30th London Marathon

The 40th London Marathon was postponed from April 26 to October 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Barbara Ralph with her plaque for 3rd woman in the 55-59 age category in the 2009 London Marathon (John Ralph/PA)

Barbara Ralph with her plaque for 3rd woman in the 55-59 age category in the 2009 London Marathon (John Ralph/PA)

Barbara Ralph with her plaque for 3rd woman in the 55-59 age category in the 2009 London Marathon (John Ralph/PA)

A woman preparing for her 30th London Marathon said distance running is “the only thing I can do”.

Barbara Ralph, 66, of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, told the PA news agency: “I’m not good at any sport and can’t sprint to save my life.”

It had been thought that Louise Blizzard, 44, from Warrington, Cheshire, would be setting a new record for the most London Marathons completed by a woman if she collected her 26th medal this year.

Barbara Ralph at 17 miles in the 2017 London Marathon (Family handout/PA)
Barbara Ralph at 17 miles in the 2017 London Marathon (Family handout/PA)

Other women have now come forward to say they have run more and Mrs Ralph made her own claim for the record when she presented the London Marathon with evidence of her 29 completed races.

The Chiltern Harriers Athletics Club runner has run 10 London Marathons under her maiden name of Barbara Sheldon, three as Barbara Sheldon-Ralph and 16 under her married name.

In 2009, aged 55, she finished in three hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds and was the third woman to finish in the 55-59 age group, receiving a plaque for her achievement. She was also rated third in the UK in her age group for a marathon that year.

“That’s the sort of thing you are more proud of than getting a medal for finishing. It’s got more meaning,” she told PA.

“The plaque I have got has more meaning because I won something.”

Barbara Ralph at seven miles in the 2015 London Marathon which she finished as 4th woman aged 60-64 (Family handout/PA)
Barbara Ralph at seven miles in the 2015 London Marathon which she finished as 4th woman aged 60-64 (Family handout/PA)

She has run numerous other marathons including Berlin, Chateauneuf du Pape in France, Isle of Man, New Forest, Abingdon in Oxfordshire, Harrow in north west London, Bungay in Norfolk, Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire, the Kent Coastal marathon and the Flying Fox Marathon in Staffordshire.

“It’s the only thing I can do,” she said modestly.

Mrs Ralph, who grew up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, started running regularly when she was 28 and signed up on a whim for her first ever race which was the Bedford Marathon.

She finished in three hours and 22 minutes, but said: “I could hardly walk for three weeks after it.”

Barbara approaching the finish line in the 1990 Finchley 20 mile road race (Family handout/PA)
Barbara approaching the finish line in the 1990 Finchley 20 mile road race (Family handout/PA)

She had shown early promise as a teenager when her younger brother George suggested they run alongside a local five mile race.

“I think I had shoes and jeans type trousers on,” she remembered.

“I left my brother. I was 14 I think. He was two-and-a-half years younger than me. I came in about third.”

She added: “I was always first to the bus. I couldn’t sprint but if it was maybe a few hundred yards, I was always first there.

“At school I tried to do cross country but only boys were allowed to do cross country at the school that I went to.”

Instead she had to play hockey “which I hated” or netball which “I didn’t mind”.

Barbara Ralph with the Sporting Life Trophy at the 2016 London Marathon exhibition (Family handout/PA)

Mrs Ralph, who missed last year’s race due to a bad back, will have to wait until October 4 for her next chance to run her 30th London Marathon. This year’s 40th race was postponed from April 26 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Taking a positive from it I’ll have more time to train as I’ve had a bad back and have been struggling to get the mileage up,” said Mrs Ralph, a part time admin worker for civil and structural engineering consultancy PTA.

“I can probably get myself fitter for October than I would’ve for April.”

PA