Spring marathon season is over, and last Sunday was it’s grand finale. After Manchester and Brighton came London and, even though I put in for the ballot I didn’t get to run it. I did have a friend running, and running for a very specific target pace. So today I am going to be blogging about my marathon experience from the other side of the fence, from the grandstand and the crowd.
It was an early morning as I had volunteered to help at the start along with many friends from my running club, and as I was picking some of them up I found myself crawling out of bed at ‘What the fuck’ O’clock. We needed to be at Blackheath for a briefing before 7am. There we learned that we were to be split into teams of two and stationed at strategic points to supply information to spectators and participants. My partner in crime and I, were paired up and sent over towards the ‘Green Start’ to direct people to their pen where they could change and put their baggage on the truck. It was a bit of a coup apparently as this is the pen for celebrities and right next to the main grandstand.
The London Marathon has 3 starting points which meet up after about 3 miles. The one we were stationed at was where the elites ran from, not to mention the bulk of people running for ‘fun’. My friend, who is more than a bit quicker than I am had got a good for age place. Not just any good for age but a fast good for age. This meant we would not see him start the marathon as he was in the Red Zone.
The conditions were pretty much perfect for running distances, but the slight chill in the air and occasional drizzle meant cold feet and hands for those of us volunteering. Fired up by the occasion we greeted people enthusiastically, danced a bit to the music being pumped out over the PA and generally had as good a time as possible. We did have a few celebrities come our way, but being the cultural troglodyte that I am I recognised none of them except Mr Parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. When the runners had arrived and with 5 mins to go we got a breakfast bap and cup of tea before making our way up to the grandstand. Fed watered and happily excited we lapped up the atmosphere. Normally for me the start of a marathon is a moment to bring everything in, becoming insular and calm. If it is an important run it all becomes about focusing and shrinking my world down to the plan I am about to stick the fuck to. London was an opportunity to revel in the carnival atmosphere of a spectacular event. It took about 25 minutes for the field to pass over the start and we spent the whole time cheering and dancing. I loved every minute and would recommend going up to watch the start if you ever get the chance.
With our duty done we met up with other club members and hatched a plan to get to the end. Missing our friends start there was no way that we wanted to miss him at the end. This was a novel experience for me. I have never been at the finish of a marathon without having first run 26.2 miles. We arrived at the 25.5 mile mark and found a place to camp and wait. There were other friends from club stationed around the course, so as well as the official tracking system we had our own. Messages were passed as our fast friend sped through spectator points and we knew he was on his way. The Elite men, the wheelchairs, and elite ladies all made their way past. It wasn’t long before the very fastest of the UK club runners started appearing and the crowd heading toward the finish line gradually grew. At this point I began to understand how my friends had felt when I ran Manchester. We knew the target time and as it got closer the nerves increased. Eyes were fixed firmly on the corner where the runners came into view and I couldn’t speak, I thought about taking up biting my nails to relieve the tension. Running wasn’t this hard, you just had to focus and keep going, here you had no control, all you could do was watch and wait and hope. We got messages from out on the course, it was going to be tight. Just as I began to think everything was over our friend loomed into view, flashed past with a little wave while we screamed and went mental. It was going to be really tight. We made our way over to the actual finish meet and greet to look for him. I have never been so relieved in my life when he came through. 61 seconds off his PB running the course in 2:53:44.
What pithy little message can I draw from this tale? How can I turn what is basically an elaborate diary entry into a wonderful life lesson? I don’t think I can, what I can say though is that I have learned there are no passive onlookers, if you care about the people running it can be just as much of an ordeal spectating as running a bloody race.