The London Marathon has always billed itself as an international long-distance running event. In 2015, 38,262 racers representing roughly 200 countries ran the race, some setting world records along the way. But in 2016, a new record was sought, and it forever changed the London Marathon from an international race to an intergalactic event.
Last weekend, as almost 40,000 runners lined up to run 26.2 miles (42 kilometers) through the streets of London, British astronaut Tim Peake ran alongside them — albeit from more than 250 miles above the Earth and while orbiting the planet at 17,000 miles per hour. With his run, Peake became the first person to run the London Marathon from space.
This wasn't Peake's first marathon. The astronaut completed the London Marathon in 1999 in 3 hours 18 minutes and 50 seconds. But for that event he ran on the ground. His most recent feat marked the first time that anyone has run the London Marathon while in orbit.
"The London Marathon is a worldwide event. Let's take it out of this world," said Peake in a video put together by the London Marathon organizers and event sponsor Virgin Money.
Peake launched into orbit on Dec. 15 as a representative of the European Space Agency. He is the first Brit aboard the space station, and is scheduled to spend six months on this tour.
His December launch gave him a full 18-plus weeks to train before the London Marathon, which as many marathoners know is the perfect amount of time to train for such an undertaking. But while many of his race colleagues trained by pounding the pavement, Peake strapped himself into a harness system so that he could run in the weightless environment.
While running without gravity may seem like a breeze, Peake points out in the video that it's much harder than it sounds. "One of the biggest challenges that I'll be facing is actually the harness system," he says, "In [micro] gravity, I would float if I didn't strap myself down to the treadmill. So I have to wear a harness system — it's a bit similar to a rucksack. After about 40 minutes to an hour, that gets very uncomfortable to run in."
Peake wasn't planning to beat his 1999 time. He set a goal of anywhere between 3.5 to 4 hours. And he achieved that goal with room to spare with an estimated time of 3:35.21, the European Space Agency tweeted.
Peake was also the official starter of the race, telling his fellow competitors, "I'm really excited to be able to join the runners on earth from right here on board the Space Station. Good luck to everybody running, and I hope to see you all at the finish line."
To stay in touch with his fellow runners, Peake used the app RunSocial so that he could digitally follow the London Marathon route. RunSocial tweeted his progress along the way, like this moment when Peake was cruising through mile 23:
Peake is the second astronaut to run a marathon from the International Space Station. In 2007, Sunita Williams completed the Boston Marathon while orbiting the planet. Peake used his run to raise money for The Prince's Trust, a charity that works in youth education and training.
Editor's note: This story was originally written in December 2015 and has been updated with more recent information.