Some sports, while fun to participate in, can push you to your physical and mental limits. And marathons are among the hardest events in that regard – as competitors are required to run great distances before they reach the finishing lines. Despite the hardships, though, many men and women take on these endurance tests each and every year. A case in point is Jessica Anderson, who in 2019 looked to challenge herself in a very famous marathon race in a particularly strange way.
Yes, Anderson decided to compete in the 2019 London Marathon – an annual race held in England’s capital city. This contest, following its inception in the early 1980s, has become one of the most popular in the sporting calendar. And each year, tens of thousands of people sign up for the lengthy course.
So while professional runners also compete at the London Marathon, the amateur athletes run their own event. Any number of those participating wear funny costumes during the run too, as they try to raise money for various charities. But Anderson actually had a different idea in mind ahead of the big day.
Wanting to stand out from the other runners, Anderson – a nurse – aimed to complete the grueling course in her work attire. And by doing so, the medic had her sights set on an even greater achievement: to become a new world-record holder. But unfortunately for Anderson, her dreams would be dashed – for a bizarre reason.
And it’s one that has nothing to do with long-distance running. Endurance events are, of course, one of the hardest disciplines in sport – with competitors pushing their bodies to their absolute limits. So not only do athletes need to be in peak physical condition ahead of any race, but they must also be mentally strong. Given the sheer length of the courses, too, it’s imperative that the participants pace themselves properly.
Marathon runners specifically face all of these challenges. And in contrast to events on a race track, these contests usually require athletes to compete on the roads of different towns and cities across the globe. Regardless of where in the world they’re staged, though, all of the courses are just over 26 miles long.
And of all the marathons that take place each year, one in particular continues to stand out: the London Marathon. This event brings together a large number of professional and amateur athletes, presenting them with the challenge of completing a grueling course. And the city’s iconic mixture of historic and contemporary landmarks provides a unique backdrop for all the runners.
In fact, prior to the creation of the London Marathon, the city already had a lengthy history of long-distance racing. It all started back in the summer of 1908 – when London played host to the Olympics. That’s when a local running club devised the Games’ marathon course.
So, known as the Polytechnic Harriers, the running group plotted a course for the competitors that would take them around London. The race actually began outside Windsor Castle, and the finishing line was placed at a stadium located in the White City district. In total, of course, the Olympic marathon was just over 26 miles in length.
Following this momentous event, then, the people of London started to take a real interest in the sport – leading to a significant moment. British publication The Sporting Life, you see, put forward the idea of hosting a yearly race, with the winner receiving a prize. And because of their work at the Olympics, the Polytechnic Harriers were tasked with resurrecting this marathon.
So, some 12 months later, the Polytechnic Marathon made its debut in London in the spring of 1909. Much like the race from the year before, the starting line was located outside Windsor Castle. As for the length, it covered the exact same distance as the event at the 1908 Olympics. It’s unlikely that Anderson would have been able to compete in her work clothes at this time, though.
In any case, the Polytechnic Marathon maintained a course that concluded at Stamford Bridge – the current home of Chelsea’s soccer team – for more than 20 years. That all changed in 1933, however, when the finishing line was relocated back to its former home in White City. And towards the end of the decade, there would be another significant alteration.
In fact, the location of the Polytechnic Marathon’s final stretch changed again in 1938. At that point, you see, the running club had a stadium of its own in West London. This therefore went on to host the finishes. From there, the event really grew in popularity – particularly as runners started to register a number of notable records. It’s perhaps worth noting, mind you, that the record that Anderson set out to beat in 2019 had not yet been set.
The 1970s marked a pivotal period in the Polytechnic Marathon’s history, however. During that time, in fact, the race reportedly struggled to maintain the high standards of previous years. The course itself also suffered as a result of London traffic. The event therefore came to an end in 1996 – just three years shy of its 90th anniversary.
As the Polytechnic Marathon continued to decline, though, another idea had come about in the late 1970s. At that point, then, a man named Chris Brasher competed in the New York City Marathon. A gold medal winner at the 1956 Olympics in the steeplechase, the retired British athlete was deeply affected by his experience in the Big Apple.
“To believe this story, you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family,” wrote Brasher in The Observer in November 1979. “Working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible.” The former Olympian then proceeded to document, in great detail, what he’d seen during the race in New York.
“Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and [Asian] people, laughed and cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen,” Brasher continued. His thoughts didn’t end there, either.
Brasher then posed his readers an intriguing question. “I wonder whether London could stage such a festival?” he wrote in the newspaper. “We have the course, a magnificent course… but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?” So on that note, a plan would soon be set in motion.
Alongside runner John Disley, Brasher launched the London Marathon – with the first race taking place in 1981. In excess of 7,700 people competed at that debut event, although more than 1,000 runners didn’t reach the finishing line. And since then, the success of the contest has only snowballed. Hundreds of thousands more athletes have followed the grueling course over the years, in fact.
Now recognized as one of the biggest sporting events of the year, the London Marathon continues to attract huge numbers of runners too. And for the amateur competitors, the event offers them the chance to raise money for a variety of charities. So with that in mind, Jessica Anderson looked to do her bit ahead of the race in 2019 – and hopefully make history in the process as well.
Anderson normally plies her trade as a nurse at the Royal London Hospital, and in the spring of 2019 she planned to compete in the London Marathon. Before the event, though, she decided to run in aid of an organization named Barts Charity. Anderson also intended to take on the course in her nurse’s attire.
“I am running the London Marathon in my uniform for Barts Charity, because I want to raise funds for my unit’s charity fund,” Anderson wrote on the website Just Giving. “I’m fundraising for Barts Charity to support the work of the wonderful staff on the Acute Admissions Unit at the Royal London Hospital, where I have worked for nearly seven years.”
Anderson explained why she wanted to run the marathon in her work clothes too. “I will be attempting to break the record for the fastest marathon in a nurse’s uniform by a female runner!” she revealed. Yet the runner realized that there was some very strange reasoning standing in the way of her hopes and dreams.
So what was it? Well, as a modern nurse, Anderson wears scrubs throughout her shifts at the hospital. Yet according to Guinness World Records, that attire didn’t actually meet the guidelines for the record she was attempting to break. To conform with the criteria, then, runners were apparently expected to don a nurse’s dress, a cap and an apron.
Despite that setback, though, Anderson refused to be deterred ahead of the London Marathon. “Unfortunately, Guinness World Records has not accepted my application, as they said my uniform does not comply with their ‘criteria’ of what a nurse wears,” she confirmed. “However, I will still be aiming to beat the current official time of three hours, eight minutes and 54 seconds.”
The nurse proceeded to highlight where the donated funds would be invested. “We have previously used the charity fund to buy equipment for the ward such as dementia-friendly clocks and signage, a bladder scanner and some furnishings for the staff room and day rooms,” she said. “Thank you for supporting the cause!”
Anderson had set herself a goal of £500 ($624) on the fundraising website. And when the time to run eventually came, the nurse ran the marathon wearing her scrubs – ignoring the guidelines put forward via Guinness World Records. Then, at the end of the event, the runner took to Instagram to share some big news.
Anderson posted a photo of herself during the run, clad in her regular work attire. After thanking a number of people in the accompanying message, she then had something else to say. “PS Guinness World Records,” the hospital medic wrote. “This is what the fastest female marathon runner in a nurse’s uniform ACTUALLY looks like (3.08.22).”
Yes, Anderson had beaten the previous record by more than 30 seconds. But Guinness World Records nonetheless failed to recognize her fantastic achievement. And because of that, the organization faced some stinging criticism following the London Marathon. Of all the angry responses, though, one social media post in particular stood out.
“Don’t [Guinness World Records] know that what this nurse wore is standard nurse uniform in most of the U.K. and other parts of the world?” asked an Instagram user in response to Anderson’s post. “Are they living back in the 1950s and 1970s? Sack them, and give this nurse the award she won.”
As for Anderson, she stood by her decision in the days after the race. “The exact wording of the title was ‘fastest marathon in a nurse’s uniform,’ and I took that literally,” she explained to Runner’s World magazine in May 2019. “I thought it should be treated the same as an attempt for fastest marathon in a fireman’s uniform.”
“Runners all seemed to be wearing official uniforms for that,” Anderson added. “I also thought that running in scrubs would be as much as a challenge.” As a result of the public outcry, though, Guinness World Records’ official website released a written statement from senior vice president Samantha Fay.
And in Fay’s message, Anderson finally received some recognition for her achievements at the London Marathon. “Over the weekend it has become quite clear to Guinness World Records that our guidelines for the fastest marathon wearing a nurse’s uniform were outdated, incorrect and reflected a stereotype we do not in any way wish to perpetuate,” Fay wrote.
“Having received the official timings from London Marathon this morning, we are pleased to award Jessica with the Guinness World Records title for the fastest marathon wearing a nurse’s uniform for her attempt on Sunday, 28 April,” Fay continued. “And [we] have notified her as such.” Fay also confirmed that the organization had apologized to Anderson for its mistakes.
Fay had some additional announcements to share with the public as well. The vice president in fact revealed that any “fancy dress” nurse items wouldn’t be considered for this particular record again. So with that in mind, Fay reiterated that the specifics of the dress code would be updated for future attempts.
Fay’s statement didn’t end there, though, as she proceeded to reflect on the relationship between Guinness World Records and the London Marathon. “The original plan was to create a handful of record titles to match the already large appetite for running the marathon in fancy dress,” she wrote. “And in 2007, seven people ran the marathon with the goal of achieving a world record.”
“Since then, we have seen hundreds of records attempted and broken as well as thousands of pounds raised for numerous charities,” Fay revealed. The vice president then chose to focus upon some of those other marathon records. And as it turned out, the entry for nurses wasn’t the only one to face changes.
“The review of this category is the first review of each one of our 200+ marathon titles we will be conducting as a priority, to ensure we do not allow any costumes which bring a profession or any other subject into disrepute,” Fay added. “Any we discover will be either amended to reflect modern standards, or deactivated.”
As for Anderson’s fundraising efforts, the controversy certainly appeared to have an impact. So, after setting herself a goal of £500 ($624), the nurse eventually brought in more than £5,600 ($6,992) on the Just Giving website. Runner’s World, meanwhile, asked for her response upon receiving the marathon record.
“I think one of the main things was to recognize that nursing is a profession for men and women,” Anderson told the publication. “[The updates may] also go some way to getting away from the ‘naughty nurse’ stereotype. I feel quite honored to have been able to represent the profession.”