Did Joe Strummer, Frontman of The Clash, Run the Paris and London Marathons?

As a kid who wore Doc Mar­tins to high school gym class and refused par­tic­i­pa­tion on prin­ci­ple, it was my firm belief that “sports aren’t punk.” But had I known then what I know now about the ath­let­ic prowess of one of my heroes, Joe Strum­mer, I might have been a lit­tle more moti­vat­ed to try and com­pete with the great man’s abil­i­ty. A cham­pi­on run­ner dur­ing his lone­ly years at board­ing school, Strum­mer nev­er lost the runner’s bug, sup­pos­ed­ly fin­ish­ing two marathons, and pos­si­bly a third, while with The Clash. Let’s begin with that “pos­si­bly,” shall we? First, watch the clip above from the doc­u­men­tary Joe Strum­mer: The Future is Unwrit­ten.

For con­text, know that before the release of 1982’s Com­bat Rock, the band’s man­ag­er Bernie Rhodes sug­gest­ed that Strum­mer dis­ap­pear to Austin for a while to stir up some con­tro­ver­sy and increase tick­et sales. Strum­mer instead went to Paris with­out telling anyone—turning a hoax A.W.O.L. sto­ry into a real one. He tells it above, casu­al­ly toss­ing out, “and I ran the Paris Marathon, too,” a bury­ing of the lede Grantland’s Michael Bertin com­pares to Buzz Aldrin men­tion­ing his moon­walk between a bass fish­ing sto­ry and his wife’s casse­role. Peo­ple train for months, years, for marathons; Strum­mer, it seems strolled onto the course with his girl­friend of the time, Gaby Salter, and “allegedly”—alleges this Wikipedia entry—fin­ished in an aston­ish­ing 3 hours, 20 min­utes. Lat­er, asked by a reporter to describe his reg­i­men before the race, he said, “Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a sin­gle step at least four weeks before the race.”


Every­thing about this sto­ry seems sus­pect, includ­ing the fact that in the sup­posed pho­to­graph of Strum­mer and Salter post-race (above)—both in run­ning gear but look­ing as fresh as if they’d just strolled out of the hotel patis­serienei­ther one wears a bib num­ber … “some­thing,” Bertin points out, “that a race par­tic­i­pant should have.” What’s more, Strum­mer was “capa­ble of rewrit­ing his­to­ry to make him­self look bet­ter,” which may explain his cagey reluc­tance to elab­o­rate. Bertin offers many more rea­sons to think the sto­ry a fab­ri­ca­tion, yet there is at least one high­ly cred­i­ble fact to sup­port it: The Lon­don Marathon, which Strum­mer most decid­ed­ly did run (see him below, race bib and all), fin­ish­ing with a most respectable time of 4:13 with­out any pri­or train­ing at all. Chris Salewicz’s Redemp­tion Song: The Bal­lad of Joe Strum­mer quotes Gaby Salter say­ing “He hadn’t trained. He just bought some shorts and said, ‘Let’s run a marathon.’” Salter petered out halfway through. Lat­er in the book, Antony Genn, Strummer’s col­lab­o­ra­tor in the Mescaleros, recounts the hard-drink­ing Strum­mer say­ing of his marathon expe­ri­ence, “I didn’t fuckin’ train. Not once. Just turned up and did it.’”


While this seems patent­ly impos­si­ble, per­haps it’s true after all that the front­man of the The Clash, who weath­ered the rise and fall of punk bet­ter than any of his con­tem­po­raries, had such nat­ur­al phys­i­cal endurance he could casu­al­ly toss off a marathon in-between drunks and packs of smokes. Real run­ners will sure­ly scoff, but if Joe Strum­mer ever did train, no one ever saw him do it. If he were alive now, he’d be 62 years old and prob­a­bly still mak­ing records and knock­ing ’em back. Maybe he’d even breeze through the New York Marathon on his way to the stu­dio. And if we asked him for his secret, he’d prob­a­bly tell us some­thing like he told that reporter who asked about Paris: “’Do not try this at home.’ I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thomp­son, but it might not work for oth­ers.” Yeah, ya think?

via Dan­ger­ous­Minds and Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Joe Strummer’s Lon­don Call­ing”: All 8 Episodes of Strummer’s UK Radio Show Free Online

Doc­u­men­tary Viva Joe Strum­mer: The Sto­ry of the Clash Sur­veys the Career of Rock’s Beloved Front­man

John­ny Cash & Joe Strum­mer Sing Bob Marley’s “Redemp­tion Song” (2002)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Jon Holmes says:

    he defi­nate­ly did run the paris marathon because i’ve seen his com­peti­tors medal

  • Simon Edwards says:

    Joe strum­mer was a fan­tas­tic cross coun­try run­ner at school that was the ener­gy he had on stage !!!!!!!! What a fukkin phe­nom­e­non !!!!!
    Fan­tas­tic xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Nat Bocking says:

    I am cer­tain he did because I ran the same race and my medal looks just like one in his pho­tos. I was aim­ing for under four hours but pulled a ham­string and had to get first aid and limped to the fin­ish in 4.55 but I won­der what his time was? I can’t find the race records online.

  • Ruth Graham says:

    I went run­ning with John in Man­ches­ter and read about run­ning issues.

  • Greggy K says:

    I went to see The Clash in Portsmouth while on their Lon­don Call­ing tour. The next morn­ing while real­ly hung over I went to work at Fun Acres (South­sea Fun­fair). Who ran past me in shorts and vest? Joe Strum­mer!!

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