Stories from those who have run every Abbott World Marathon Major

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Fifty thousand people are on the starting line. Thousands more line the streets to cheer them on.

Whether that’s 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers depends on where in the world you are. Approximately one million runners each year rush to the starting line to become a marathon runner. Less than 1% of the world’s population has ever completed a marathon.

A joke in the running community after completing a marathon is to say “Never again” – then sign up for another one. For some, the goal is to run each of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo, earning a star for each finisher. There are 8,066 six-star finishers after the 2022 Chicago Marathon, representing 103 countries around the world.

On Sunday, the New York Marathon will be the last major of the year and 73 runners on the starting line will aim to join the list of six-star finishers. Who are these athletes? It’s not just elite runners.

Here are five who have done it – and one who is looking to land his sixth star in New York on Sunday.


Ron Romano, 61

Ron Romano tunes into the Zoom interview decked out in Abbott World Marathon Majors gear. He has his hat and his gaiter around his neck. Behind him are his medal rack and other racing paraphilias.

It’s very clear, even before he speaks, that running is his passion. Romano is full of life and full of energy. He has an active Instagram and podcast called “Ron Runs NYC”, where he talks to runners from all walks of life. He always likes to talk about running.

At 58, Romano has decided to tackle the world majors. He had run the New York Marathon, but he wasn’t trying to be competitive. He only started running when he was 30 years old. Once he realized that long distances suited him better, he hired a trainer and started to really work on his training.

Romano’s motto is “You gotta stay in the fight”, based on his 90-year-old mother. She has been through so many challenges in her life, and yet she continues. It’s a big motivation for him. In 2019, Romano ran all six major marathons in a calendar year at an average time of 3 hours and 15 minutes. He was one of 19 people to do so that year – and only 82 people have ever completed their six-star journey in a calendar year.

Romano raced Berlin in September this year and will race in New York on Sunday, aiming to finish in under 3:30.


Edna Kiplagat, 42 years old

“Let’s go mom!” That’s what Edna Kiplagat hears throughout her long training runs in Longmont, Colorado, as her husband drives by her side with his kids in the back cheering.

No matter the race, they support her throughout her running journey. Kiplagat grew up in Iten, Kenya and started out playing football before switching to athletics. Kiplagat was already running faster than his peers, and it was evident in middle school. She started qualifying for international races at a young age.

“Running doesn’t come without a lot of training and hard work,” says Kiplagat, though she adds that top athletes find happiness, joy and excitement in their sport. Kiplagat has this impression of running.

She won her first major marathon in New York in 2010 and has since won two of the other majors – London in 2014 and Boston in 2017. She is also a two-time marathon gold medalist at the World Championships in Athletics and will be back in New York to race on Sunday.

Gilbert Koech is her husband as well as her trainer. They work together and plan for months to make sure she’s ready for race day.

“Eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and having an overview are all important parts of being ready for the marathon,” she says, “To have a good experience, you need to be prepared.”


Manuela Schär, 37 years old

An accident at the age of 8 forces Manuela Schär to look for a sport that would replace running. She started wheelchair racing at the age of 11 – and has never looked back.

Switzerland has a long and rich history in wheelchair racing, and Schär is one of them. She won seven major marathons in a row in 2018 and 2019 and has a PR of 1:28:17 for the distance. In Tokyo last year, she won gold in the 400 and 800 meters at the Paralympic Games.

Schär loves traveling and marathon distance, and she enjoys all the challenges the different majors throw at her. “To be a total athlete,” she says, “you have to be good on both the flats and the downhill sections of the course.”

The Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division in 1975, and now it has become a standard event at every major marathon.

“It’s really special that wheelchair racing is included in the Abbott World Marathon Majors,” Schär said. “It gives these athletes a global stage and more opportunities from sponsorships to the ability to be a role model. Including wheelchair racing in these events helps support the future of the sport.”

Schär will aim to win her fourth New York City Marathon on Sunday – she won three in a row from 2017 to 2019.


René, Dirk and Gijs van Hunsel, aged 65, 37 and 33 respectively

One marathon turned into six for René and his sons, Dirk and Gijs. Rene ran for 50 years through five small villages in the Netherlands. In 2007 he ran his first marathon. In 2012, the three van Hunsels signed up to run the New York City Marathon together, but Hurricane Sandy hit and the event was canceled.

A year later, they were finally able to race in New York. They joke that they still don’t know why they sign up year after year to get up at 6 a.m. and then wait three hours in cold weather to run with thousands of people.

“Training for a marathon is healthy, but running the marathon is not,” says Rene. “I appreciate the distance because it’s just a bit too far for me, so I feel accomplished when I’m done.”

The van Hunsels like to motivate themselves during training. They don’t live next to each other in the Netherlands, so they can’t run together as much as they would like. But they make it work.

“When I found out my dad had run more miles than me [one] week, Gijs and I felt we had to catch up,” jokes Dirk.

When they heard about the marathon majors, they decided to run all six races. But it was a challenge to get all three of them in every race. They would enter the lottery or use a tour operator to enter, while Rene usually qualified in his age group based on his time.

In April, they completed their sixth marathon, in Boston, to receive their six-star medals. As a family running together, the van Hunsels stood out – and they said the cheers they received made them feel like celebrities.


Ciaran Diviney, 50 years old

After a 20-year hiatus from running, Ciaran Diviney has decided to start over. In 2011 he chose to run the Berlin Marathon with some friends. He finished it in 3:09. “I caught the running bug,” he says.

When he started training it was more of a solo mission, but that quickly changed when he started encountering others on his runs. The following year he met some other people who were also training for the Dublin Marathon and they suggested he join their local athletics running club.

It changed his life. He met the love of his life, Ciara, at the running club and they now have a family with two young boys. Diviney self-trains and runs about 70-80 miles a week, with a marathon PR of 2:35:30.

He didn’t begin to complete all of the marathon majors, but the more he learned, the more he wanted. “[They] have that element of prestige about them. Then I realized it was something I could accomplish and it became a milestone that I was looking forward to.”

He has now run 15 marathons – and even ran the Dublin Marathon last Saturday before crossing the ocean and heading to New York this Sunday. If he finishes NYC, he will earn his sixth star finisher medal.


Jennifer Solomon, 49 years old

Jennifer Solomon smoked a pack of cigarettes a day until 2008. “I smoked for about 15 years,” she says. At the age of 40, she decided she needed to adopt a healthier lifestyle. She quit smoking and when she started gaining weight she started running.

She had never thought of herself as an athlete. As a single mother with three children, she didn’t have much time for herself, but she had just enough time to run.

Solomon started with 5k runs before choosing to run the Manchester City Marathon in New Hampshire in 2014 and the Boston Marathon in 2018 as a charity runner for Boston Children’s Hospital.

“As an adult, I feel like we have so little to be proud of,” Solomon says. “Every training cycle and every race had this rush to finish. I loved that feeling.”

Solomon completed all six marathon majors in 12 months in 2019. She ran with charity bibs for five of the majors and raised $60,000 for children’s charities. It became something she did just for herself – and she didn’t mind her kids bragging about her marathons to their friends.

“Don’t stop until you’re proud,” she told herself.

After each race, Solomon was always on a flight home the next day to see his children. Then, after completing all the world marathon majors, she moved on: in February 2020, she ran the World Marathon Challenge – running a marathon across seven continents in seven days.

“To be honest, it was difficult and looking back, I don’t know how I put it all together. I think if I had thought of everything in its totality, I would have been scared, so I I just planned the week ahead.”

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