London Marathon Winner Sifan Hassan On Self-Belief, Resilience And Overcoming Adversity

·5-min read
sifan hassan
Sifan Hassan Explains How She Won London MarathonAlex Davidson - Getty Images

The world of long-distance running demands an extraordinary level of determination, endurance and perseverance. You need only look to athlete Sifan Hassan to see that. A three-time Olympic champion and multiple world record holder, Hassan has achieved countless accolades in her stellar running career.

But on Sunday, April 23, 2023 she added yet another victory to her list of accomplishments when she beat more than 20,000 elite female runners to be crowned the winner of the London Marathon in a time of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds. But the runner's road to Pall Mall hasn't always been plain sailing.

We caught up with the athlete to find out what she's learnt during her journey to victory, and the importance of competing with yourself to find greatness.

netherlands sifan hassan breaks the tape to win the womens race at the finish of the 2023 london marathon in central london on april 23, 2023
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Congratulations on winning the London Marathon 2023. How have you felt since your win?

It’s been really fun. I'm really happy about all the positive feedback and hearing that people really enjoyed seeing me run. I’m so grateful. I've been really surprised [with all the attention since the win]. So many people have wanted to talk to me and take pictures. They’re so happy for me which is shocking because I've never thought that I’d affect people in such a positive way. I never expected to receive all of this attention.

I'm going to remember this marathon forever. When I started the race I didn't think winning would be possible, and never thought that I'd rank in the top five because so many of the other runners had run marathons in under two hours and eighteen minutes, or have won Olympic medals. I'll never say something isn't possible ever again...

How did your body feel after you crossed the line?

The day after the Marathon my body felt broken. I felt it in my legs – it was so hard to sit down and stand up. But I feel much better now. I have so much respect for marathon runners.

sifan hassan interview
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You mentioned you cried before the race. Why was that?

I was so scared of the journey and the distance; I thought this will be painful. I also had doubts about whether I'd be able to finish the marathon. And it wasn't just any marathon, it was the London Marathon! Running teaches you patience, and I didn't want to give up. After all, if you don't give up, you just continue.

You trained for the London Marathon during Ramadan. Describe that process.

It was hard. Fasting is healthy for my body and mental health, but because I fast specifically for my faith, I think it makes me stronger. I hope other people who fasted during Ramadan gained that benefit, too.

sifan hassan interview
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You lost contact with the lead group during the race as you were stretching an injured hip, and nearly collided with a support motorbike. How did you deal with that?

Even though I was in pain, I thought here I go. I just wanted to continue with the distance and see how long I could make it. I wanted to get more experience. When you feel pain during a short distance [run] it’s not so much a problem, but in a marathon, you're putting a lot of pressure on the body so it’s going to hurt and the pain doesn't get any better.

I thought I was 110% going to stop, but I just kept going. I didn’t even think for one second that I would catch up with the first group. As for the near collision, I was doing Ramadan so I didn’t know how I was going to collect my water bottle. I was running like someone who was so inexperienced – it was crazy.

How do you take it in your stride when you face a challenge?

I wasn't born with that ability, nor learnt it at a young age. I think learning to take something difficult in your stride is something life teaches you. I had a tough moment in 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo during the 1,500m heat. I fell down in the final lap, got up and then won the race. So, when I feel like I want to give up or cry, I don’t. And the outcome is much more beautiful.

sifan hassan interview
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Do you have any 'rituals' before you take part in a race?

The night before the London Marathon I was very stressed. I talked to my manager, who made me feel really calm. They said: 'Look Sifan, you're unexperienced and you've never run in a big marathon with such great female athletes before. So, if you run 21km or 25km, or if you finish 10th or 20th, it doesn't matter.' They told me it didn't matter if I stopped during the race, so I just felt very relaxed. When I went to bed, I felt like I could sleep peacefully.

Were there any positive moments during the London Marathon you remember?

Even though I was in so much pain, I found the crowd in London to be so amazing. The spectators were shouting like crazy. There was so much support – I wish it was always like that. I was so grateful, and happy for their help.

london, england april 23 sifan hassan of netherlands poses for a photo with their trophy after winning the elite womans marathon during the 2023 tcs london marathon on april 23, 2023 in london
Alex Davidson - Getty Images

How do you maintain your self-belief?

Looking back on my journey and everything that's happened to me makes me so grateful [for what I've achieved]. I don't challenge myself to be better than the next person, rather better than myself. I think everyone should compete with themselves. Challenging yourself is hard work, but it's okay to be scared, have doubts and to be worried. Just don’t run away and quit. The real race begins when the pain starts.

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