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Politicians Running The London Marathon Say It Makes Them "Better MPs"

Multiple MPs run the London Marathon each year (Alamy)

8 min read

MPs have said running makes them better at their jobs, as a record 20 MPs and peers from different parties will be taking part in the London Marathon today.

12 Conservative MPs, three Labour MPs, two SNP MPs, one independent MP and two peers are taking on the 26.2 mile race across London – the most serving politicians to have ever participated. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is the most senior MP running, and former health secretary and now independent MP Matt Hancock is also taking part. Other participants include first-time marathon runner Tory MP Dehenna Davison and Tory MP Alun Cairns, who is running for the 12th time and holds the record – alongside James Timpson MP – for the highest number of London Marathons completed as an MP and was the fastest MP in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

PoliticsHome spoke to multiple MPs taking part this year, who shared why they believe running a marathon helps them be better MPs.

Why does running a marathon make you a better MP?

Cairns said that the discipline needed for marathon training helps him to prioritise tasks in his busy working life.

"For me personally, I find it a great discipline and structure," he said, explaining that he starts his training in December each year leading up to the race in April and that this "definitely" makes him a better MP.

"I think about problems when I'm out on a long run. It's that time to get to yourself to have a little bit of space and think about all the challenges and the opportunities and everything else that in a busy life we don't get a chance to think and talk about," he explained. 

"The structure throughout the day, it gives me focus and if I'm running in the evening, it means that I won't have a drink in the Parliament bars."

He added that fundraising has enabled him to get closer to the work of individual charities and causes.

Conservative MP Paul Scully, a former minister who is standing down at the next general election, said running gave him time to "breathe".

"You need to take a breath, for your own good, for your own health, to just let your mind play through a lot of things and reevaluate the important things in life," he said.

"I think it makes you a better MP, because the problem with politics is that we are in such a bubble, not just the Westminster bubble, but the party bubble, and so you never really have time for yourself to solve problems."

The MP shared that when he recently got a "pile on social media" after saying there were "no-go zones" in Birmingham and London, he "went out for a run at four o'clock in the morning, taking my frustration out on the roads of Kingston".

"It is good for mindfulness: when I'm doing my training runs, I put my headphones on and put on some banging tunes and just concentrate on my pace and the political world just drifts away."

Dehenna Davison, who will also be standing down as an MP at the next general election, said in her view this was the "last chance" she had to run the marathon while having the platform of an MP.

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Thangam Debbonaire said that running and playing the cello as part of her routine has been important for keeping healthy as an MP.

"It's given me personal insight into the importance of physical activity, particularly for women who often will give up at puberty and never take it up again," she said.

"And it's been a big thing for me to discover that loads of women who never thought they could do sport discovered they can run.

"I think it makes me a better MP and it gives me a sort of resilience and energy, running can actually make you feel more focused and alert in my experience, but also staying fit and healthy is important. If you're going to serve the public you need to stay fit and healthy and that can be a challenge with our lifestyle and long hours."

Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will run the London Marathon for the third time this year (Alamy)

What causes are you raising money for?

Labour MP Dan Jarvis, a regular London Marathon runner, always runs for Cancer Research UK since his first wife died of cancer in 2010.

"That was my primary motivation for doing it, but as a local MP every single week I'm talking to people who've been affected by cancer either they've been diagnosed or a family member has, so its reach is so extensive," he said.

"Just as important as the money almost is the point around raising awareness with regard to early diagnosis. So the earlier you can catch cancer, the better your chances are of a successful outcome.

"My sub-bullet to all of that is to say specifically to older blokes, including many of my constituents, sort of tough Yorkshire blokes who don't go to the GP when there's a problem: if you think that there might be a problem, get yourself checked out."

Multiple other MPs will be running for cancer charities: Cairns is raising money for Children with Cancer UK, the same charity as three-time winner of the London Marathon Paula Radcliffe, while Scully is fundraising for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

"It's the profile that we can do as much as the money," Scully explained.

"It just helps more people understand that there's a charity attached to an amazing NHS hospital, it is one of the best hospitals in the world."

Davison is fundraising for the National Migraine Centre, having been open about her own struggle with experiencing severe migraines during her time as an MP.

"The National Migraine Centre really matters, because of the genuine impact that can have on people by providing them with firstly belief that they are living with a very real condition that can be completely debilitating, but also just practical support, they can actually offer treatment to and help people to manage the condition," she said. 

"They're not a charity that many people know, which is another incentive for me to get behind them, just to help spread the word about the work that they do."

Debbonaire is raising money for Bristol Refugee Rights, "a fantastic charity that does just brilliant, brilliant work".

"Their approach is very much about being led by what asylum seekers need and want and getting them involved as volunteers as much as possible," she said. 

What are your personal goals?

Many MPs said that being competitive with both themselves and others was part of their nature, admitting they welcomed having a challenge that enabled them to focus on something other than politics – particularly in a general election year.

53-year-old Cairns achieved an impressive best time of 3hrs:28mins in 2016, but joked that he is "getting older".

"Some of the MPs are younger and so I can't imagine I'll hold on to the title of being the fastest MP this year, but I'll be doing my best to do so," he said.

However, he admitted there is a "shadow competition" between MPs – both him and Jarvis named each other as rivals.

Jarvis, who had a time of 3hrs:39mins last year, said he will be "digging deep" this time around as he has not had much time to train.

"I will be very hard pressed to go quicker than that, and I will be personally very disappointed if that is the case, I will beat myself up," he said.

"My primary competition is with myself, so I don't like the thought of going slower than I did the previous year."

Scully is aiming for four hours this time, a self-confessed "big leap" from his previous times of 4hrs:18mins and 4hrs:16mins.

Debbonaire completed her first marathon in 2019 at 5hrs:45mins.

"So not great, but it was my first one, I'm still proud as getting around is an achievement," she said. She added that her ultimate goal is to do a sub-four hour marathon by the time she is 60 in two years time, but hopes she will make 4hrs:30mins or 5 hours this time.

Davison mostly hopes to complete the marathon and not put too much pressure on herself: "I just want to enjoy it and have the shared experience."

MPs running near Parliament
17 MPs ran in the 2018 London Marathon (Alamy)

What do you listen to while training?

Many MPs said that part of their enjoyment of running comes down to having the time to listen to everything from political podcasts to a fascinating array of music playlists.

Scully listens to a combination of political podcasts, audiobooks or a "random Spotify playlist or 80s running playlist".

Maybe by Emma Bunton is Scully's personal favourite as it has "just got the right beat".

Recently he has also listened to Rory Stewart's latest book, followed by Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman, Nadine Dorries' The Plot, and Bill Bryson's book The Body: A Guide for Occupants.

Cairns is a big fan of the Diary of a CEO podcast with Steven Bartlett, but said he also listens to Virgin Radio Breakfast Show and Matt Chorley's show on Times Radio. Jarvis, meanwhile, said he listens to multiple political podcasts but would not admit his favourite one: "It will annoy people..."

Davison has enjoyed listening to the audiobook Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding, but mostly runs to her 'Happy Taylor' Taylor Swift playlist which includes some of her most upbeat songs, as well as some Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo.

Debbonaire said she spends a great deal of time curating the perfect marathon playlist, with a middle section consisting of Beethoven piano concertos, and with techno and electronic dance music at the beginning and the end.

"The speed of that but also the way the music functions is pumping you up, keeping you going, gives you a shot of adrenaline which you really need, especially in the last four miles," she said.

"It's a big deal for me to spend time alone with music."

You can see all the MPs who are taking part in the London Marathon here.

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