Booted Up

Running a marathon is no small accomplishment. Now try running one in ski boots. Alastair Machell did.
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Running a marathon is no small accomplishment. Now try running one in ski boots. Alastair Machell did.
Alastair Machell

For skiers, autumn is gear season. For fit—and particularly masochistic—skiers, autumn is also marathon season. In an unlikely scenario, Alastair Machell managed to combine the two. The 36-year-old Watford, England, resident completed the London Marathon last year in his trusty Salomon ski boots. It was Alastair’s first marathon, and (not surprisingly) he also appears to be the first person to run the London Marathon wearing ski boots.

It took Machell eight hours and one minute to complete the 26.2 miles, at which time the course was empty, with cleaning crews right behind him. “I started up front in the pack, but I lost all the runners about mile eight,” Machell says.

With the crowds long gone, he found inspiration elsewhere. “There were a lot of people who had been in the pubs all day. They came out and cheered. And there was a group of Japanese tourists snapping photos of this random bloke running through London in ski boots. That helped me carry on.”

Machell, an IT sales representative, decided to run the race in ski boots to help others carry on. He was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2001, when he was 21 years old. He had the tumor successfully removed but the subsequent chemotherapy led to kidney failure and eventually a kidney transplant. He decided to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Charity and for Royal Free, the hospital where he was treated. The question was how to do it.

A passionate skier and a member of the British speed-skiing team until he was injured in a crash, Machell came up with the idea to boot up for the marathon during a ski trip to Selva, Italy, which is connected to other resorts. “I’ve never walked so much in ski boots in my life,” he says. “On the way back from a pub, I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad. I could run a marathon like this.’”

He proceeded to buy a treadmill on eBay and began training in boots, working up to 10k, and starting to believe, “Maybe I can do this.”

He did it, but at a price. Machell hit the infamous 20-mile-mark wall a wee bit early, around mile eight. “I’ve never been in so much pain,” he says. A woman on the sideline—he guesses she was a nurse—persuaded him to stop and “she pulled all these bandages out of her rucksack and fixed me up.”

Later in the race, around mile 18, he was weakening again. “Then my best mate rang me and told me that ‘Pain is temporary. Glory is eternal.’” Now any thought of not completing the course had to be dismissed. When he saw his girlfriend at mile 22, “I knew I was going to make it.”

You know how sore your feet are after the last run of a long ski day? Don’t make Machell laugh. “I was worried at the end of the race to take my boots off, wondering what I would find,” he says. “There were blisters on blisters.”

Being a thrifty Brit, Machell admits that running 26.2 miles in his ski boots “did ground them down a bit,” he says. “But I think they’re still good.”


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