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Barbara Fleming-Ovens first Northern Ireland woman to run six 'major' world marathons in a row

By Angela Rainey

A mum who almost died on the operating table is being celebrated as the first woman from Northern Ireland to complete the gruelling task of running the world's six 'major' marathons in a row.

Barbara Fleming-Ovens is one of only 500 people worldwide to have completed the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, a feat completed over a two-year period.

The 47-year-old mother-of-three said she was "over the Moon" after crossing the finish line at the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

Her amazing success comes after finishing the other five marathons - Chicago, Berlin, London, New York and Boston.

Having only taken up the sport eight years ago, she was inspired to live life to the full after an operation for a hysterectomy almost ended her life.

"I did a bit of cross-country running at school but only took up running properly eight years ago after a period of ill-health, but I never dreamed I'd achieve anything like this," she said.

"The surgery didn't go as planned and I nearly lost my life.

"It made me look at the world with new eyes, I realised how quickly your life could be taken away.

"After being so ill I suffered panic attacks and my husband Allan, who did some running, suggested I join him - he thought it would make me feel better.

"I gradually built up to 10ks, then half marathons and, finally, marathons. Now I think, how do you know what you're capable of unless you try? Don't follow your dreams, run after them. It's hard work - I'm into my fourth pair of trainers in a year - but it's very rewarding, confidence-building and a great de-stresser too."

Mrs Fleming-Ovens said she was also motivated to raise money for cancer charities after losing a close friend to the illness last year.

"All our families are touched by cancer at some stage in our lives and it's not just the person who has cancer that's affected, but the whole family.

"Every day I am grateful for the ability to run, and when I run I remember those that have lost the fight, those that are still fighting and those that have won."

In all, Barbara has a total of nine marathons under her belt and runs her 10th in Manchester later this year. She is just £500 short of reaching her £12,000 fundraising target. She is urging others to sign up for a marathon place through Cancer Focus NI.

Emma McArdle, of Cancer Focus NI, said: "We are so grateful to Barbara for all her fundraising efforts, which will help make a real difference to cancer patients and their families here in Northern Ireland during a very difficult time in their lives."

  • To donate visit To run a race for Cancer Focus NI, call 028 9066 3281 or email

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