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Photo of Professor Liz Peel after her 100th marathon stood outside wearing her medals

An academic’s inspirational ‘quest for the vest’ after completing 100th marathon

Professor Elizabeth Peel is the University’s Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Doctoral College, and a Professor of Communication and Social Interaction in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Outside of work though, Liz has just achieved the significant goal of running 100 marathons.

She completed the centennial race on Saturday (17 July) in Northampton at the Cone of Doom Challenge, with a time of 5:29:58.

For those who don’t know, the ‘quest for the vest’ is a well-known phrase used by the running community for those who are aiming to join the 100 Marathon Club. To become a full club member a runner must complete a minimum of 2,620 miles, covered in distances of at least 26.2 miles at a time.

What makes this an even more impressive accolade is the fact that Liz is the 12th person in 2021 to have joined the 100 Marathon Club and the fifth woman.

Her running career spans over 70 trail marathons, 24 road marathons and five ultras, including a 10K lap event in which she ran 80K in 13 hours one year after joining the University in April 2017.

During her marathon journey she’s raced at night, completed a 105.5 lap course around a running track, done four double marathons, saw stunning views at the summit of Snowdon twenty miles in, and returned from retiring at her 10th marathon in 2014 after a calf injury.

Despite the number of times Liz has recuperated from a longstanding ankle weakness and has had to stop because of lockdowns, she’s accomplished an astounding milestone for someone who first learned to run in 2011 using a ‘Couch to 5K’ app.

Like many people, Liz started distance running raising money for charities close to her heart. In 2013 she raised over £3,000 for Young Dementia UK (now part of Dementia UK) by running in memory of her father. She ran her first marathon in the April, at an impressive time of 3:50:29. She then went on to complete a further four marathons in the following three months, including in Edinburgh, which remains her personal best time at 3:46:30.

When asked how she’s able to fit so much running into her busy schedule, Liz commented: “Running is very flexible and can be fitted around other commitments. The key to learning to distance run is ‘the long run’. Given the number of marathons I’ve run in recent years, I don’t ‘train’ so the last marathon is effectively ‘the long run’ ahead of the next one”.

Liz also believes running is beneficial for both her professional and personal life, explaining that it helps her think things through, and provides her with a different focus to her work and family life whilst being immersed in nature – “intense forest bathing”.

To those who would like to run a marathon one day – or maybe even 100 like Liz – she had the following advice: “Runners are often fixated on speed, but I’d encourage those embarking on distance running to focus on the process rather than the outcome.

“Having a realistic training plan that fits with life is important too. And not being too hard on yourself. I’ve come last, and I’ve left a marathon 20 miles in. At times I’ve felt decrepit, at other times euphoric. Unfortunately, marathons don’t get much easier physically or mentally, but you can learn a lot about yourself and others along the way.

“Having not given up on my ‘quest’ during the pandemic, though I’ve had to replan it three times, it’s important to try to be sanguine about things whilst not losing sight of your goal.”

Although Liz has completed marathons in the European destinations of Reykjavik, Malta and Rotterdam, she hasn’t been lucky enough to get an iconic London Marathon place on her journey – until now. She has finally secured a place to run the London Marathon on 3 October fundraising for a charity close to her heart. It will be her first marathon in the coveted 100 Marathon Club vest. To take part, Liz needs to hit her target of £1,250 for the Dyslexia Research Trust. If you’d like to support her, visit the JustGiving link here.

On completing her 100th marathon, Liz said: “As someone who doesn’t consider themselves ‘sporty’ I am delighted to have run my 100th. I’m also pleased to be retiring from the distance, focusing on less taxing and time-consuming half marathons. Having said this, I am prepared to come out of retirement one last time!”