Alistair Rutherford. Picture: BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY
Alistair Rutherford. Picture: BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY



A student from Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK will this weekend attempt a Guinness World Record — running the fastest marathon dressed as a musical instrument — in aid of a South African charity.

Alistair Rutherford will wear a viola costume to run the Birmingham International Marathon on Sunday 15 October‚ the university said in a statement.

The current record was set by Adam Hill on 20 March 2016. The US runner from Springfield‚ Virginia‚ ran the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach while dressed as a cowbell.

Created by Merseyside-based designer Brian D Hanlon‚ Rutherford’s outfit is made from lightweight Plastazote foam and comes complete with a headpiece that mimics the shape of the viola’s neck and pegbox.

Alistair Rutherford. Picture: BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY
Alistair Rutherford. Picture: BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY

Nicknamed “The Running Viola”‚ the 21-year-old Rutherford broke the half marathon record earlier this year.

Rutherford hopes to raise at least £4‚000 for the collaborative UK-South African project‚ Cape Gate MIAGI Centre for Music and Birmingham Conservatoire – or ARCO‚ which is also the name for the technique of playing a stringed instrument with a bow.

Under ARCO, 24 South African strings students aged between eight and 17 have been selected to participate in weekly instrumental Skype lessons‚ given by academics‚ current students and alumni of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire‚ part of Birmingham City University.

Conservatoire staff and students‚ including Rutherford‚ have also been acting as role models for vulnerable youngsters living in Soweto.

Funds raised from his world record attempt will enable pupil Njabulo Nxumalo‚ aged 17‚ to fly to the UK next month‚ along with 13-year-old Kwanda Buthelezi and 12-year-old Mbali Phato‚ to perform in an ARCO concert on Saturday, November 18 as part of the second Cecil Aronowitz Viola Competition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Running the Birmingham International Marathon is just one of several fundraising events the postgraduate student has organised in aid of ARCO.

Last year‚ the violist ran the equivalent distance of the length of SA’s coastline‚ clocking up 2‚798km by the time he flew out to Johannesburg for the first ARCO Festival‚ where Conservatoire students and staff met and performed with their students in person for the first time.

Earlier this year‚ he ran the Liverpool Half Marathon‚ the Wirral Half Marathon and the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10K‚ all in his viola costume.

Rutherford‚ who hails from Allerton in Liverpool‚ said: “After running the distance of the South African coastline during my third year of study at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire‚ and previously running a marathon when I was 17‚ I was struggling for fundraising ideas.

“One evening whilst in our local pub myself and fellow ARCO teacher Matt Johnstone joked about a Guinness World Record involving both the things I love; running and the viola.

“With the half-marathon record now under my belt‚ it seemed that the next logical step would be to try and become the world’s fastest musical instrument in the full marathon. Training has been going well and I am aiming to beat the record that currently stands at four hours‚ 14 minutes and 18 seconds.”

Fellow students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire will be serenading Alistair and the thousands taking part in the marathon from the sidelines‚ performing two world premieres specially commissioned for the occasion.

Louise Lansdown‚ head of strings at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire‚ initiated the ARCO project in 2015. She said the two new works are a brass dectet and a massed viola work.

Also taking part will be Laura Leyland‚ senior lecturer in engineering at Birmingham City University‚ who is running her first marathon. She has been documenting her own progress in a blog‚ which has included coaching from academics who teach on the institution’s new Sport and Exercise Science degree programme.

Support for Rutherford’s challenge has been bolstered with his personalised “mini me” mascot; a knitted doll created by Joyce Peacock from Kirkby in Liverpool. Since February 2015‚ Joyce has knitted 375 “running dolls” for good causes and currently has more than 50 on order.

Her creation is 16.5 inches tall‚ exactly the same length as Alistair’s real-life viola made by German luthier Bernd Hiller.

Rutherford will be further supported by his athletics club‚ Birmingham-based Birchfield Harriers‚ which is one of the most successful athletics clubs in Britain — having been represented at every single Olympic Games bar one since 1908.

Birchfield Harriers are based at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium‚ which is in the running to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

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