London Marathon: Marot's long run for home

Simon Turnbull says the unsung heroine deserves a place in history; Britain's best still reigns supreme despite a decade of challenges. Now she is coming back for more
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The Independent Online
IT WAS not very far from corner to corner, but Quentin Scobie was crossing the kitchen at quite a lick. "Look," he said, "I can run." "So can your mummy," he was informed. "Did you know she's a British record holder?" "A what?" came the bemused four-year-old's reply. Quentin, it transpired, knew his mummy was a runner because there happens to be a picture of her in action somewhere on the kitchen wall. In fact, you have to look behind Quentin's artwork on the noticeboard to find the small photograph of Veronique Marot crossing Westminster Bridge to break the British Women's Marathon record in 1989.

Quentin's mummy returns to the scene of her finest 2hr 25min 56sec today, to join the fun-running masses in the Flora London Marathon. But not a lot of people know that, 10 years after, she still remains Britain's fastest ever Marathon woman. "It's funny," Marot said, chuckling in the study of the house she bought in suburban Leeds with her winnings from the 1989 race, "but the most unexpected people seem to know: the man who looks after the alarm, the gas man, the postman. One of the mothers at Quentin's school said to me, `I had no idea you are famous,' which more or less sums it up. Quite a lot of people don't know about it and are surprised when they find out."

Even dedicated followers of athletics matters will be surprised to learn that no woman of any nationality has recorded a faster time in the London Marathon since Marot's winning run 10 years ago - and that, in the 18- year history of the race, only Ingrid Kristiansen and Grete Waitz have been quicker. Not that Marot, 43 now and seven years into her retirement from serious competitive running, laments the recognition that has strangely passed her by.

"I know what I achieved, and Brian knows," she said, referring to Brian Scobie, her partner and former coach. "Really, for me, that's enough. I am not Liz McColgan. I've never courted publicity. For me, it's not important. I've moved on. I've got other things in my life. I have two children. I work as a lawyer. I keep my trophies in the cellar. I hate it when you go into someone's house and see this cabinet of trophies on display."

The irony is that Marot, in her contented anonymity, possessed the one thing McColgan, with her high public profile, has come to crave. Since winning the world 10,000m title in 1991 and making a victorious marathon debut in New York, the Scot has spent eight years chasing the British record. It is a measure of Marot's unappreciated achievement that a runner of McColgan's calibre has barely come within a minute of her time. McColgan's personal best is 58 seconds slower - 2:26: 54. Even at the age of 34, however, McColgan has pledged to return to her quest after the birth of her second child this summer.

"I stated in an interview in Athletics Weekly three years ago that I didn't think Liz would break the record because of the way she runs." Marot said. "She bounces too much. She doesn't shuffle like a true marathon runner. Liz was outraged. She said, `I am going to break Veronique's record even if it kills me.' I thought, `Right. Go ahead and kill yourself. It's fine by me.' I think maybe Paula Radcliffe will be the one to break it. We'll have to wait and see."

There would be neat symmetry in that. Radcliffe has a house in the French Pyrenees at Font-Romeu. Marot spent the first 21 years of her life at Compiegne, 40 miles north of Paris. She moved to England in 1976 to study at York University ("because I didn't think the standard of teaching in France was very good") and discovered she had a natural talent for long- distance running on a university outing to the Barnsley Marathon in 1978.

She finished in a modest 3hr 50min, but that was on a threadbare training regime of three runs a week (four miles, six miles and eight miles) and while virtually carrying an injured friend round the second half of the course. The following year she became the first woman to run the 23-mile Ennerdale Horse Shoe Race, and in 1981 she was the ninth female finisher in the inaugural London Marathon. Two years later she became a British citizen and a British international runner.

"I did run a little bit when I was in France," Marot reflected. "I won my age-group section in the Oise County cross country championships when I was 17, but only because the actual winner of the race, Chantal Langlace, could not count because she was too old."

Langlace went on to break the world marathon record twice, clocking 2:46:24 in 1974 and 2:35:15 in 1977. But Marot, as well as being British record holder, is the fastest French-born woman's marathon runner too. The French record, set by Maria Rebelo in London eight years ago, is 2:29:04.

Not that Marot is expecting to break any records today. "I am running to raise money for British Blind Sports," she said.

"Brian is the technical director of the International Blind Sports Federation. I got involved in sport for the blind through him. God knows what time I'll run. I've got a bit of a sciatic problem, plus two kids, plus a job. I only run three times a week now. I think I will be doing well if I break four hours. I'm just hoping to run on memory, really."

And, of course, the memory of Veronique Marot's London Marathon run of 10 years ago can still be found in the record books.