This viola’s made for running

13 October 2017
Screen-Shot-2017-10-13-at-16.19.20-75182.png Alistair Rutherford
Birmingham Conservatoire student takes the idea of a marathon session to the next level


Birmingham Conservatoire student takes the idea of a marathon session to the next level

A student from Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is mixing his love of both music and athletics to attempt a Guinness World Record: running the fastest marathon dressed as a musical instrument.

The story behind the reopening of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in new premises is told by Warwick Thompson in the current issue of Pianist. One of the most enterprising of the Conservatoire’s students has been practising for weeks in a custom-made viola costume running the Birmingham International Marathon on Sunday 15 October. Alistair Rutherford – a.k.a. The Running Viola – aims to repeat his success after breaking the half-marathon record earlier this year. Created by Merseyside-based designer Brian D Hanlon, the outfit is made from lightweight Plastazote foam and comes complete with a striking headpiece that mimics the shape of the viola’s neck and pegbox.



In his viola costume, Rutherford is running to raise funds for a collaborative UK-South African project, known as ARCO, between the Cape Gate MIAGI Centre for Music and Birmingham Conservatoire. The project will benefit 24 students (aged 8-17) in South Africa who have been selected to participate in weekly instrumental Skype lessons, given by academics, current students and alumni of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Running the Birmingham International Marathon is just one of several fundraising events organised by the violist in aid of ARCO. Last year, Rutherford ran the equivalent distance of the length of South Africa’s coastline, clocking up 1,739 miles (2798 kilometres) 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.

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On this occasion, funds raised from his world-record attempt will enable his pupil, Njabulo Nxumalo, aged 17, to fly over to the UK, along with Kwanda Buthelezi, aged 13, and Mbali Phato, aged 12, and perform in the ARCO Concert on Saturday 18 November as part of the second Cecil Aronowitz Viola Competition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Meanwhile, his marathon journey will be streamed live to the ARCO youngsters, so they can cheer him on from the other side of the world.

Watch Alistair in training: 



21-year-old Rutherford, who was hails from Allerton in Liverpool, said: ‘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.’ 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.

You can support Alistair’s world record attempt via his JustGiving page. His progress in the Liverpool Half Marathon can be watched on Facebook LIVE from 9am on Sunday 15 October.