Sport OLIVER HOLT: Strauss will run marathon in memory of his late wife
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In the early months of 2013, formercaptain Andrew Strauss and his wife, Ruth, began to train for that year’s Virgin Money Marathon. Strauss was newly retired from playing the game he loved and was in need of a challenge. Ruth had never been a runner but they wanted to spend all the time they could together. 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 grew nearer. ‘To go through it together,’ says Strauss, ‘like all those things marathon trainers have to go through, shin splints, blisters, really long runs, and to have each other to go through that with, was brilliant.’
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They started the race together but they did not finish it together. That had never been the plan. ‘Chivalry was very much out of the window there,’ says Strauss, smiling at the memory. ‘I saw her at the end and that was an extraordinary thing. I felt like it was a brilliant bonding experience for us. She was delighted. She had never run before and now she had completed a marathon.
‘We had agreed to do it on a drunken night out with a friend of ours and the next morning Ruth was regretting it hugely but she had the tenacity to see it through. It was a shared challenge. When the race started, I got my head down and got into performance-mindset but I think now you miss out a bit if you do too much of that.’
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At he beginning of 2018, almost 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 that year when their sons, Sam and Luca, were 13 and 10, but not before she had drawn up a blueprint for a charity to provide emotional support for families to prepare for the death of a parent.
Soon after he had run the London Marathon, Strauss had said he would never do it again. ‘It was one to tick off the bucket list and never be repeated under any circumstances,’ he said a couple of months after it. But last Thursday, I sat with him at a table at the ExCeL, where he had just collected his race number for Sunday's event.
Last time, he was running with Ruth. This time, he is running 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 expended, but it takes it to a different level when you are running for a cause and for a loved one.
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One of the many moving things about an event like the London Marathon is seeing the thousands of people who run with a picture of a father, a mother, a wife, a husband, a son or a daughter, on their vest. For so many, running the marathon is a way of paying tribute to someone they have lost, a display of love and devotion and dedication through a different kind of suffering.
I only have 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 had established after he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. The evening before the race, we sat in a temporary grandstand in Times Square and listened to Geoff give an impromptu speech.
He talked about a child he had met who was suffering from leukaemia and the courage she had shown as she fought to recover. He reminded us it was people like her that we were running for and raising money for. At some basic level, it helped me get round the course the next day. When I felt it was getting too painful, I found myself thinking of what that girl was going through. I don’t know if it was coincidence but that was the fastest marathon I ever ran.
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‘Reliving this marathon experience allows me to remember Ruth and remember what we went through together when we were getting 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 are running or supporting.
‘I feel like it brings me closer to Ruth again. Life goes on and life is busy and to have an opportunity to take a step back and remember that experience and those moments is a really valuable thing both for me and the boys. They are 15 and 13 now and in fact, I was talking to them the other night about whether they remember us running the marathon.
‘They said they remembered us being interviewed on television and it is indelibly printed on their minds, too. I am not trying to use that emotion as a driver to run an unbelievably quick time or anything. It’s just to be a part of it and to know there are other people running for the foundation as well, all of that is hugely important.
‘I’ll be thinking about her a lot. I definitely feel there are moments where — whether it’s the Red for Ruth Day at Lord’s or whatever — you feel she would be looking down on us and she would be very proud of what myself and the boys have done since her death and I think this will be another one of those occasions.
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‘She will be cheering us on and proud of us helping people who are going through something similar. I said to the boys when we were talking about it last night that they will have to run a marathon at some stage and neither of them seemed delighted at the prospect.’
And so on Sunday, Strauss will take his place on the start line in his red Ruth Strauss Foundation running shirt with its white heart and its white R emblazoned on it. His run is a feat of endurance but it is also a love story, just as it will be for so many others. He will be slower, he says, than the last time he ran but one way or another, he will have Ruth to keep him company on the journey.
We'll always have Paris, Leo
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It was about more than Messi’s initial run, the beautiful one-touch lay-off from Kylian Mbappe and the precise, curling finish that rippled the roof of the net.
For the first time in his glorious career, Messi’s genius had seemed vulnerable and fragile since his agonised departure from Barcelona. The first seeds of dread had begun to creep in - maybe it was over, maybe his genius wouldn’t travel, maybe he had left it in Catalonia.
When Messi scored, it was as much an explosion of relief as a burst of exhilaration. The joy of watching the greatest player in the world has survived his move. It will be there to move us to raptures for some time yet.
UEFA and a school for racism
Lesson No 512 in why players still take the knee: Sparta Prague were supposed to play their Europa League tie against Rangers at the Letna Stadium last week behind closed doors as punishment for a Monaco player being racially abused there last season.
Instead, UEFA allowed 10,000 fans, mainly schoolchildren, to attend and they responded by booing Rangers’ Glen Kamara, six months after he had been subjected to racial abuse by Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela.
Great work from UEFA all round, turning what was supposed to be a punishment into a workshop for a new generation of racist fans. And people wonder why players despair of the authorities’ ability to tackle the problem.
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