As six of our top marathon-running countries celebrate their National Days this month, we hear from some of the highest ranked runners in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Rankings about how they'll be celebrating, and what running means to them…

Tell us about your passion for running and why you do it?

Tom Van Onvegal (Belgium M45-49)

“As a school kid I found I had a talent for endurance sports, especially for running. Despite choosing cycling in the Belgian tradition as my preferred sport, I occasionally ran a marathon as a university student with some success (2:47:00). “For me running has always felt so natural and relaxing. However, it would take another twenty years before I found my way back
to running as a master. At the start running was the ideal stress relief, but 
soon as with everything I do I was also looking for challenges in running
and pushing my boundaries. I love running because you are guaranteed
to be rewarded at race day when you work hard and rest smart. It is just simple and tremendous fun to do.”


Allison Blackmore (Canada F50-54)

“In the past 10 years my running has gone from an activity I would plan to do to a sport that my day is planned around. I believe you reach a stage
in life where you find more time to do the things you love, and make them
a priority. Running provides me time for stress relief, personal reflection, social interaction and my favorite - the competitive challenge! Working
with my coach, Janice McCaffrey, I have learned how to train smart by putting in workouts designed to get the best results. Workouts are
both hard and fun, and in the end have been very rewarding! It is very motivating to be at the level I am today and being competitive in my age group, and I am very excited to continue to push myself and expand my limits.”


Frank Denelle (France M60-64)

“I love running because running is life. And I love life. Like life, running
can be hard, painful and unfair … but like life, running offers fulfilment, happiness and lasting peace. I was more of an irregular jogger who
preferred swimming and cycling. Yet in early 2013, prompted by the enthusiasm of a colleague who ran the 2011 New York City Marathon, I decided to try the Berlin Marathon. The months leading to the race were a discovery of endurance running, but also self-discovery, both physical and mental. Building the ability to run 42.1 km was hard. I had no coach and trained mostly on treadmills, due to the demands of my job. But the joy I
felt when finishing is hard to describe, and the emotion I felt when my
mom told me “your dad (who died in 2005) would be so proud of you!” 
It is now six years since my first marathon. Running has become an
integral part of my life, which has been transformed accordingly. I have improved my first marathon PB by almost one hour."


Mary Dunbar (United States F75-79)

“It started quite innocently: when I retired at the end of 2007, I had a
bucket list that included running a marathon before I turned 70 - a
capstone to years of jogging around my neighborhood but never entering a race.  In 2009 at age 67, I checked that off the list by completing the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon. I then thought I could qualify for the Boston Marathon. In short - I was hooked! After three tries I made it, and it was there I learned about the Abbott World Marathon Majors and that kept me going. The rest is history.” 


Georges Khawam Chekar (Venzuela M55-59)

“I started running thanks to my great friend Andres Rodriguez (a Six Star Finisher), who invited me to run the New York City Marathon in 2014. It was there I discovered that running marathons is like life: it is not easy, you’re challenged by every kilometer, and you take on the personal challenge and push yourself until you reach the finish line. Every day can be a struggle 
where your mind, your personality, your discipline must prevail to achieve everything. I think that passion is summarized by running marathons, because when you reach your goal the satisfaction you feel is indescribable.”


Mariela Steiervalt (Argentina F40-44)

“I started to run 10 years ago because a dear friend, who was a good runner, didn’t want to run alone and wanted some company. In the beginning it was hard and really hard to catch up with her! She was fast
and I was so slow! Some months later, she began talking about half marathons and marathons, and I thought IMPOSSIBLE! After a year, I was improving and I felt confident to start racing. First a half marathon, then a full marathon. It felt incredible! Running became my passion, my
happiness. My motto in life is ‘Nothing is impossible in life, you just need
to work really hard to get it.’ I am also now on my journey to the Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star medal. I have five and I hope to get
number six in Boston 2020!”



How do you and others from your country celebrate your national day?

Tom (Belgian National Day 21 July)

“Last year I went out for a long run on the national day looking at all the houses with their colorful national flags; this year we will be on holiday abroad. Traditionally people watch the military parade in Brussels and the fireworks in the evening. As Belgians we are always looking for an occasion to enjoy a good meal and some special beer!”

Frank (Bastille Day, 14 July)

“The anniversary of the “Prise de la Bastille” on 14 July 1789, is symbol of French freedom, and of the “Fête de la Fédération”, which celebrated the French unity on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held in Paris and other French cities in the morning, followed by balls and fireworks in the evening. The largest celebration is the military parade on the Champs-Élysées in front of the President de la Republique accompanied by French officials, foreign Ambassadors and other foreign guests. Although I have lived most of my life as expatriate working throughout the world, 14 July has always been a very special day for me. Wherever I was in the world, I have always tried to watch the Champs-Élysées military parade and the Paris fireworks … My intention is to do exactly the same this year, in deep communion with all the French people around the world.”   

Allison (Canada, 1 July)

"Our Canada Day is a celebration of our country's birthday and the Constitution Act. It is a day that I like to reflect on how fortunate I am to be Canadian and to live in this amazing, diverse country. It is a day I like to get together with family and friends and join in with local community events. These typically include a fun run, a pancake breakfast, local parade, fun and games, a barbecue and then fireworks to finish the day."

Georges Khawam Chekar (Venezuela, 5 July)

"On 5 July we celebrate the Signature of the Act of Independence, a date that is celebrated with great joy at the National level with parades and many events. It is also a holiday day which we take advantage of to run and relax with friends."

Mary (United States, 4 July)

“On the Fourth of July, I'll be enjoying a barbecue with friends and going to watch fireworks. It's a special day to remember how fortunate we are in the USA for our system of government and for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - and the last of these includes marathon running!”

Mariela (Argentina, 9 July)

“July is really important in Argentina because it is the month of our independence. People from my country have a big bond of community and friendship. This is what I like the most about Argentinians, and of course, our meat! Our running community is big and we usually have huge running teams that makes running extra fun! We meet early in the morning with our running mates for long and easy runs. After that, we go home, and enjoy family time with typical Argentinian food.”

What would it mean to you to take part in the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships next year and represent your nation in London?


“I started running again on our national day ten years ago, and my goal was to break my personal record set as a university student 20 years earlier. Starting from a couch potato it took me three marathons to match my record before finally breaking it in the TCS New York City Marathon in 2017. With this goal achieved I read about the inaugural Age Group World Championships in London in 2020 and knew that was my next target. Contesting the first world championships seemed like something you would want to tell to your grandchildren, so I worked hard and earned my ranking points. With only a few more events in the qualifying period it looks like I will be at the start line next year and of course I will be honored to represent Belgium in London.” 


“I would be so honored to compete for Canada on the international stage, and to have this event taking place in my birth country makes it even more special for me. What a tremendous opportunity to be able to share this experience with not only my family and friends here in Canada, but my extended family in the UK as well! To be a part of the best age group runners from around the world, competing in the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships, would really be an incredible experience, and one I would never forget.”


“How would it feel? It would be fantastic! Magic! Like a wonderful dream coming true. Although sport has always been part of me, my work and family always came first. Over my life, I have watched many high-level sports events with excitement and enthusiasm, feeling much respect and admiration for all participants, but I never thought that I could, one day, be selected for one of those events and represent my country, France. Such a selection would be a most beautiful gift and the highest honor of my sporting life!”      


“I would be astounded to earn a place to take part in the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships next year and represent the United States. Talk about being a late bloomer!  I am 77, and being a female marathon runner at my age is unusual, to say the least. Since taking up this unusual retirement hobby, I've learned a lot about how to run marathons, and I've persisted.  I would be hugely honored to represent the United States in the World Championships.”


"To take part in the inaugural AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships, whose prestige is the best in the world and to represent Venezuela, I would be extremely proud. To tell our country that in spite of all the difficult circumstances that we live, we are able to succeed. A magic moment without any doubt.”


“It would be a huge honor to represent Argentina at the World Championships. It would be a dream come true if me, an amateur runner, a divorced mother, a fighter in life to whom nothing came easy, made it to the start line. Everything is a big effort for me, but I never stop dreamin, following those dreams, and being happy.” 

Have you scored points in the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings? See where you stand in the race for a place in the Age Group World Championships and find information on how to score points here.