Digested read. Running a marathon may be hard, but supporting a marathon is also an endurance test. Want to get a flavour of what that’s like. Read on. There follows a marathon account of my marathon spectacle by way of illustration. You’re welcome.
No need to guffaw at my expense. I fully appreciate that self-evidently, for runners the London Marathon was indeed always going to be a marathon, because it actually is. They know they will have to go and run 26.2 miles either voluntarily as a chosen challenge, or as a result of a bit too much brash bravado after one too many at the pub one night. Whatever. They are all guilty of contributory negligence as they find themselves at the start line for the London Marathon. It’s going to be tough out there, but it will also be glorious. They are all superstars for being there, just for getting to the start, and over 99% will finish. They might be broken beyond repair at the end, but hey ho, those post-running endorphins will make it all worthwhile…. hopefully. So the story goes. There will be (rightly) blogs aplenty about their stories, their metaphorical and literal journey from start to finish on the day. This is of interest to me, but not what today’s post is about. Oh no, rather this entry is going to be all about me. Me and my experience as a volunteer on the sidelines of this iconic event. Let me tell you, it was tough out there. A marathon indeed! Unless you’ve been there and done it yourself, you can have no idea of the emotional highs and lows 8 hours of spectating can put you through. That combined with the physical challenge of craning to see people, clapping and shouting can really take its toll. With hindsight (always a great thing) I perhaps should have put in a bit more training before hand, but it’s always so easy to be wise after an event. It was worth it though, to be part of the Shelter cheer team, but phew, it was surely a test of endurance too!
The upshot is that in my mind I totally earned this complimentary congratulatory bottle of ‘champagne’ that awaited me on my return to the hotel at the end of the day. I don’t feel I got it under false pretences at all. To be fair, it probably wasn’t all that complimentary anyway, not with the price I paid for a room in Kensington whilst swept up in the euphoria of the idea that I’d actually be running the marathon myself this weekend. It was nice though. I’m glad I didn’t fess up that I was a marathon deferrer coming anyway and not an actual runner anymore when I checked in, having originally booked in on a ‘marathon package’ months back.
So the story is that by an extraordinary fluke I did get a ballot place for the London Marathon 2017. I couldn’t believe my luck! However, circumstances conspired to make training nigh on impossible as I was working overseas in Cambodia at a critical time. I did try, really I did, but eventually bowed to the inevitable and tearfully deferred my entry. However, I’d already booked and paid for my (non-refundable) accommodation, so I figured I might as well go anyway to watch… and then I thought well why not volunteer? Inspirational idea. That way I’d still get to feel part of it. Honestly, ending up volunteering for Shelter (the housing and homelessness charity) was a happy accident. I do think Shelter do amazing work, and it is a charity I have contributed to over the years. However, I found the volunteering opportunity just by googling, and it came up. I wasn’t tested as to my limits in who I would be willing to associate with just for the glory of being associated with the London Marathon. So that’s good. I have subsequently discovered that loads of charities seek volunteer supporters on the day, so that’s a great option for anyone who wants to get involved. Also London parkruns are involved in running the bagdrop and collections which sounds fun too. Parkrunners get everywhere these days. I’ve stolen this picture from a facebook post elsewhere, aren’t these parkrun ambassadors great? Sigh, got to love parkrun in general and parkrun volunteers in particular.
Anyway, I figured I’d be up for some volunteering. It didn’t sound too bad. Basically just cheer along any Shelter runners, with opportunities to moonlight by cheering other runners as you wish. (I’d be looking out for my Smiley buddies from my Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces for sure! Go Smilies!) It was about raising the profile of the charity by branding all in the vicinity with Shelter T-shirts and then giving their runners a psychological boost by cheering them as loudly as possible on their way round the course. I’ve volunteered as a marshal at runs before, and usually when marshaling you have to multitask with directional pointing as well as cheering. When you factor in high-fiving and clapping as well it can get pretty busy, but it’s always been manageable. I wouldn’t be required to point here, so just focus on cheering and clapping. It’d be fine.
I’ve had some more stressful volunteering moments, the inaugural Run for all Sheffield road 10k got quite challenging but the tententen trail one, also in Sheffield was a lot of fun. Parkrun volunteering is the best though, especially junior parkrun. Those mini runners are hilarious and inspiring and amazing all rolled into one. Not unlike the folk that turned out to the London Marathon to be fair. You have to be a bit careful because small children can give unexpectedly ferocious high-fives in relation to their body mass, but the pay-off is the adorability quotient of some, which has caught my usual hardened cynicism off guard on more than one occasion. My personal favourite moment was recently when at Graves junior parkrun one of the participants I was clapping round stopped as I cheered her so she could explain to me that she was taking part in a run! I suppose she picked up I was clearly interested, so it was only polite to tell me what it was all about. How cute is that? One of the photos that follow is from volunteering at Sheffield Hallam parkrun recently, the other from Graves junior parkrun if you are interested. I only have a finite number of clothing options so the presence of a near identical outfit in both pictures may confuse you, leading you to believe it is the same event, if you are the type to both a) care at all about where the photos were taken and b) notice it is the same outfit on ostentatious display in both, despite obvious differences in location. As to which is which? Clue, only Graves park has its own goat(s). Cue ‘what’s got your goat’ punning opportunities, but I think I’ll save those for another time.
I did get stressed out by an escaping lamb on the track on Easter Sunday, but it was resolved. To be fair, the run directors can’t cover every eventuality in their volunteer briefings. Anyway, stop distracting me with all these parkrun questions – I need to crack on with my London marathon witness testimony … The point being, that given my previous volunteering experiences, I was pretty laid back about the skill requirements for my role as Shelter cheerer at the London Marathon. ‘yep, I can do that‘ I figured. Complacent. Guilty as charged.
It was really exciting waking up on Sunday morning. TV coverage had started of the build up to the marathon, and I couldn’t wait to get out and at it. Whilst some commentators might now be a bit jaded about the whole thing (seen one marathon you’ve seen them all). I’m not. I saw the couple who’d just got married at the Cutty Sark on the telly, watched the wheel chair athletes whizz away and that was it, I was off and out the door myself, wanting to get to my cheer point at the embankment ahead of them.
Even the tube was fun. There was one runner at least in his gear on the train – though I did wonder if he might be cutting it fine to get to the start. Loads of people were sporting charity tops, presumably there to support friends or family running for a chosen cause today. I was spat out at the embankment, and immediately you could feel the buzz! There were flags all the way along where various charities had marked their pitches for the day. Apparently it’s a bit of a free for all just after the roads are closed, charity mobs come out and bag spots, some securing better viewing areas than others. There was only a scattering of spectators at first, but whole armies of support crew in high viz. Volunteers handing out programmes, marshals, paramedics and St Johns Ambulance crew in abundance. The sun was shining, the London skyline glorious. Definitely the capital at its best. I’ve only ever spent time in London for frenetic work trips previously, seeing it as a tourist was amazing. Made me appreciate London in a way I haven’t previously.
There was already some sort of race underway when I arrived, which was initially a bit confusing. I had a brief moment of wondering if this was some secret youth cohort of Steel City Striders, sporting green and gold tops as they were. But I don’t think the striders have got a women’s junior running group. Therefore, I suppose it must have just been some opportunistic PE teacher despatching their charges along the route so they wouldn’t have the bother of getting out the gym equipment during double games. You can understand why. PE teachers are notoriously low status in many schools – or were in my day anyway. Of course they’d rather be smoking out the back than dragging out the coconut matting so everyone can practise their forward rolls. Quite a temptation to send everyone out for a run when all the roads are closed, who’d know? Really?
I had a bit of an explore, then sauntered over to the Shelter pitch. I was pretty early, about 9.30 a.m. I think. There weren’t any Shelter reps around, but no matter. I busied myself making friends with a couple who were already there. They’d come to watch, and were seduced by the close proximity of the Shelter flags to some decent toilets. I suggested they just stay put and don Shelter shirts when they materialised which they were happy enough to do. More the merrier after all, I presume what Shelter was seeking was a long flash mob of red to catch the eyes of passing runners.
It was quite sociable chatting to my new friends. We had quite a laugh. They weren’t really running much now apparently, but regaled me with tales of races past. My personal favourite of their many stories, was the guy’s account of experiencing serious nipple chafing during a half (or possibly full) marathon in his first long race. In literally bleeding agony, he espied an amply proportioned older woman brandishing a huge tub of vaseline ahead of him at the sidelines of the road route. Now normally one might be shy of soliciting lubricants off unknown members of the opposite sex, but in a marathon, anything goes! On this occasion he ran towards her lifting his top as he approached brandishing his bloody tits, so signalling he was a man in need. In response, she obligingly slathered generous amounts of vaseline all over his chest with open palms. Blood and vaseline mixed together he ran on, comforted. I can only presume this all happened pre mobile phones, as otherwise surely such an act of human kindness would by now have gone viral, a Brownlee Brothers moment before that was even a thing. And an extra element of titillation from the naked chest bearing dimension! I don’t have a picture of nipple chafing injuries that I wish to include. You can find your own on the interweb if you must. Really though, don’t have nightmares, protect yourself and just don’t go look. It’s not pretty.
So after a bit, Shelter staff arrived, and we negotiated the extra tops.
Other volunteers gathered too, and the crowd began to congregate. It was fun, highly sociable. The event began to build, first to appear were the wheelchair racers. That was impressive but over really quickly. It reminded me a bit of spectating at the tour de yorkshire. Over 3 hours hanging off a verge-side tree awaiting the pantaloon, or pelican or peloton or whatever it’s called, and then when it came it was gone in the blink of an eye. It was still fun to be there, but not tremendously sustained fun to tell the truth. How they steer those wheelchairs I have no idea, they go really fast. Also, the body posture is really punishing for some, heads down, I wonder how much these athletes can see and hear as they power round. Are they aware of what’s around them or is it all just one big blur? Plus, they aren’t really very well positioned for high fiving. I’d never have made it round the Sheffield Half without plenty of them! Wouldn’t want to participate in any event where that wasn’t at least an option. I suppose athletes of this calibre have internal motivation to drive them instead – extraordinary!
We were all hyped and ready to go so cheered and clapped anything passing really. However – and this is a top tip here for marathon newbies – it’s so true you mustn’t start off too fast. Supporting the marathon is a test of endurance, you need to pace yourself. Initially, it was obvious we had all potentially peaked a bit soon, complaining of aching hands and sore voices before even the visually impaired runners were in sight. (See what I did there). It was OK, we had a bit of time to regroup, breathe and recommence our support strategy before the next load of runners came through.
Some adjacent spectators similarly suffering from clapping-induced RSI were eyeing up our shelter inflatables. You know, the ones you can bang in appreciation that you see at lots of sporting events? I’ve always been a bit sniffy about them previously, but in fact they are a real boon to spectating. They are labour-saving and volume creating. I do worry a bit about the plastic waste they must generate, but have to admit they certainly do create atmosphere and colour too. Let’s hope those recently hyped plastic-eating caterpillars can really deliver. We need something to tackle all that post event debris. Anyway, I soon had them kitted out in Shelter regalia too. We were an ever-growing red swarm indeed!
We were a colourful crew craning over the barriers for the next load of runners to surge by for our amusement, merriment and indeed amazement. I was a bit confused about what was happening – there are lots of different cohorts competing, and they all started at different times. Fortunately my new friends had sussed out there were free programmes available if you just jumped one of the many bag wearing volunteers who were strolling around giving them out. The spectators guides are/were great. They include maps, who to look out for, where to watch, and, crucially, what the approximate arrival times for the leaders of the various race categories would be. I did manage to procure a programme, but to save me the arduous task of reading this myself I outsourced this particular task to one of my companion cheerers, who was periodically able to update me on who to expect to come surging by Cleopatra’s needle and so into our sightlines at any moment.
The VI guided runners were many indeed. It was fascinating to watch them speed past. Some were stride for stride with their guides, some used bungee cord to link together, others seemed to be holding onto one another, lots of techniques were in evidence. I have seen a few guided runners at parkrun and local trail running events round Sheffield. Mostly the guides and runners I’ve seen seem to talk to each other a lot ‘knees up’ or ‘keep left’ or whatever as they go round. I don’t know how much you’d hear at the marathon with so much crowd noise. I do know that we were near a sequence of three timing mats which crossed the road. One guide raised his hand really high over this stretch, I wondered if it was to indicate the need for caution. Or maybe the guide simply had cramp. Who knows. These elite VI runners are impressive, but later in the field came other non-elite VI runners, coping with the crowds of a mass start, that’s surely a new kind of awesome. One guy ran the whole thing with a white cane. No idea how he would have navigated the crowds, but clearly successfully to this point at least. We were standing bank on the 40km mark, so safe to say he must have pretty much perfected the technique by then!
The para-athletes having stormed through, in their wake were the elite women. To my shame, I don’t really know what the score was here, I do know that the lead runner seemed to be essentially running solo. She also didn’t look like she’d already run near enough 25 miles. She was fair sprinting. Maybe she was trying to shake off that annoying convoy of motorbikes that were apparently stalking her. I’m sure when I’ve watched the marathon on the telly in previous years, whilst sat on the sofa eating donuts or whatever, there is usually a group of elite runners at the front. They are at least in sight of each other if not actually in a pack. Not so for her, nor for the male lead who came behind. It seems it is true what they say about the loneliness of the long distance runner. Well I say that, I’ve never actually read the book or seen the film come to think of it, it could be about anything… I’m just meaning that running a long way is always ultimately going to be a personal and lonely journey. Less so if you are cavorting along in fancy dress with the mass start, but here, all eyes on you, wanting to win, wow, that’s mental fortitude right there! Let me see what I can find in the way of photos. A bit hit and miss but at least it shows I was there eh? Think I got male lead but not the female. Curses. Nice shot of St Paul’s on the sky line though. And a proper London Bus too. Isn’t that grand?
What this basically meant, is that we cheerers had been able to have our own warm up, putting in lots of practice by cheering the serious elite athletes as preparation for the real reason we were there, which was to support the more fun to spectate (but just as serious to run) mass participation bit. The elites are extraordinary, but for me at least, impossible to relate too. It’s like watching another species to see them fly past. How can the human body do that? However, for the record, even I noticed an anomaly at the front of the field. ‘Look, that one’s a normal person’ I shouted out in my not-very- politically-correct way as what looked like a club runner romped by well at the front of the elite men’s group. Later I discovered it was indeed ‘a normal person’ inasmuch as it was the unexpected first brit home and Swansea Harrier runner Josh Griffiths. Wow, how proud his club must be of him. I didn’t get a photo though, was too busy picking my jaw up off the road.
There were other distractions too. Due to operator error, early on in the proceedings I accidentally dropped my Shelter inflatable baton over the barricades. Oops. I was in mortal fear that this would blow away and result in some freak skid instance, knocking out some elite athlete, who’d probably take out loads of other runners as s/he fell. Those VI athletes would be at risk surely? Not the kind of publicity Shelter had signed me up for when they asked us to do all we could to raise the profile of their organistion on social media during the event I’m guessing…. Fortunately/ unfortunately, other inflatable batons from other charities were also available, tumbling along in the wind, plus my particular one got scooped up by a marshal and removed from the scene. Phew, the presence of lost inflatable batons on the courese may or may not be a lethal accident waiting to happen, but as long as I was apparently blameless in this, all would be well.
The next cause of excitement, albeit in an excruciating way, was that as the faster of the mass runners started to arrive, so too did the number of people who hit the proverbial wall in front of our very eyes, and went crashing down like nine pins. It was really disturbing. These runners were one minute racing and then next minute grey and collapsed. The St John’s ambulance crew on hand at our spot was being pulled in all directions to attend to these people. Sometimes rushing round unsure who to prioritise. There was also the practical challenge of getting to runners if they were the opposite side of the road to that where the ambulance crews were sited. By this point the runners were like a raging torrent, and so focused on moving forward that they were not necessarily aware of the need for a group of medics to cross their path. It was nail-biting stuff. The thing is, chances are it is ‘just’ extreme exhaustion, but some of the runners looked terrible. Any one of them might be in their death throes, plenty of fit people have been known to have heart attacks at running events. Then again, some that were ‘crippled’ did display phoenix like recoveries. A bit of eccentric calf stretching sprawled out on the road and then they were up and good to go. Gazelle like sprinting off once again. (Gazelle-ish, anyway).
There’s a lesson in their somewhere. Personally I listen to my body a bit too well, the slightest twinge of protest and I’ll happily slow down and/or grind to a complete halt. I have a theory that the stronger, faster runners are ‘better’ at pushing through pain in training in order to improve. But, could it be they have learned to use mental strength to silence that inner voice when maybe sometimes they shouldn’t. Ironically, they seemed more likely to come to grief than the long, slow travellers at the back of the field. In any event, it was heart breaking to see apparently strong athletes crumple just before the 25 mile mark. If that’s what hitting a wall is, I don’t want that to happen to me. Or anyone else for that matter. Not worth it. Just slow down and eat/drink something people, please!
Collapsed, little crowds of marshals and medics huddled round. Some were able to stagger to one side, and others were able to continue after a brief massage and roadside assistance. Only roadside assistance was available, not relay, or at least the runners I saws hadn’t thought to pay for that upgrade ahead of the big day. A few though, were trussed up in foil blankets like a carnist’s Sunday roast and wheeled off on little mini-wheelchair things, swaying around even in transit. Whether or not they’d be allowed to rejoin the race after a stint in the recovery tents I have no idea, but it wasn’t looking good. On the plus side, the way teams worked together to support the fallen was genuinely moving. Whether that support extended to stopping the garmins of these runners I couldn’t tell. I like to think if any of the helpers were runners themselves they would have done so.
So after the impressive bit, came the fun bit. We Shelter gang had got in the groove, and were now distracting ourselves with selfies and general whooping. Although I did know a few people running, it was great to have the charity tops to look out for. It gave a focus to the occasion. You feel much more part of it. There are so many charity runners out there I don’t know the extent to which participating raises the profile for any particular organisation, but it was good to meet like-minded others and in a small way support runners raising funds for a particularly worthy cause. Homelessness is not glamorous, and it really can happen to anyone. Since 1966 and Cathy Come Home, Shelter has been campaigning for affordable housing for all. Progress has been made, and they plough on. It doesn’t seem right to me that something as fundamental as supporting the homeless or housing vulnerable, is often left to the charity sector to pick up. However, it’s good that Shelter do what they can for people in housing need. Not surprising perhaps, but we cheerleaders all shared stories of how homelessness had impacted on either us directly or those we knew. I fear in the current political and economic climate the housing situation is going to worsen still. It may be the 21st century, but we need Shelter now more than ever.
Oh well. In cheerier news, here are jolly support mob shots. Surely a minion will put a smile on your face?
The next part of the day was focused on spotting Shelter runners. This was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more stressful than I’d anticipated. You’d be astonished how hard it is to spot a particular runner in a mass of people, even when they are just a few feet away from you and even when we had fab team work. Loads of us scanning the crowd for the tell-tale red shirts. We had some misses, and a few mis-identification. I wonder if as many British Heart Foundation cheerers inadvertantly shouted at our Shelter runners as we did theirs! There were a lot of red running tops out there, they aren’t as distinctive as you might think. Even when we did see them and scream like the sky was falling in it was often to no avail, some runners were so in the zone they were seemingly oblivious to all around them. Presumably just focused on not dying and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The few that did see us gave reactions which varied from euphoria, to shy smiles to ‘curses, why wasn’t I running when spotted’ type reactions. One runner was on her mobile phone walking and talking for the whole extent of our banner. What a missed opportunity to get some support!
It was rewarding though when they saw us and we saw them too. High fives and joyful cheers exchanged, runners sped away as if they really had been given an energy surge. I didn’t know I had such power to motivate others within me. Cool! There were however some heart-breaking moments also. The Macmillan team had a huge line of supporters, and were in great voice, but inexplicably there was one particular runner who saw them and waved and jumped around right in front of them, but they just didn’t see him. It was awful. That’s the thing about watching the marathon, it is such a roller coaster. The pain, the agony, the ecstasy, the glory, the ‘what might have been’ all emotions in the raw are laid bare before you. Running it may well be hard, but watching is not for the faint-hearted either!
I tried to snap a few Shelter runners as I passed, but it’s hard to get action shots I find:
Fortunately, the professional photographer at our cheer station captured the moments rather better than me, but hey ho, it’s the thought that counts I’m sure! Here are some of his. Or you can look at the Shelter facebook 2017 London marathon photos link for more.
He wasn’t the only photographer earning his keep on the day. We were near to a WaterAid UK cheer station. Their photographer was particularly proactive. He must have run his own marathon on Sunday, most of it in reverse. I don’t know how he was able to seek out his team so effectively, but he was on fire! He was constantly scanning the stampede of runners to spot his targets, he’d then dart in amongst the throng – risking being trampled at any moment – or worse yet, getting his camera shoved. He’d somehow alert his WaterAid runner where the cheer station was and sort of shoo them across to collect high fives, whilst simultaneously shooting off a load of shots and running backwards at speed. I got quite fascinated by this tour de force. He must have got some amazing shots. I ended up trying to get some of him in action too, which I didn’t really achieve, though it’s the thought that counts. WaterAid also had a running camel, which is helpful. Helpful because all those who think my running buddy Roger is a camel can see he is definitely a horse when you have an actual camel by way of comparison. If you don’t know what I mean you’ll have to read up all about the Marathon themed Southwark parkun on Saturday, I can’t be bothered to go over it all again here.
By this point in the day hours had passed, and I was hungry and thirsty and my neck was really hurting. The thing is though, Fear Of Missing Out, or more specifically, fear of missing a Sheffield runner in general or one of My Smiley Runners in particular, was pretty strong. It is addictive being at the side lines. You don’t want to lose your spot, and it doesn’t really feel right to sit down and start chomping down on a picnic lunch when weary runners are dragging themselves past you. The only right thing to do is continue the endurance test yourself and hang on in there cheering yourself hoarse. A random wise woman I met said to me once one day when we struck up a conversation in a park cafe ‘of course, the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.’ And you know what? She’s absolutely right!
There was a tracking app available but as I’m the last person in the world without a smart phone I was unable to make use of that technology. A friend of mine on standby was unbeknownst to me texting me real-time updates, but I didn’t notice my phone messages until all but the last of the people I was looking out for had run past. I did spot one Smiley, and screamed into her ear but she was too in the zone to notice. Likewise I shouted out ‘Go Strider’ and ‘Go Dark Peak’ to other runners in familiar Sheffield kits,but in return got not so much as a sideways glance all day. Incidentally, the two Dark Peak Fell runners I saw were going incredibly fast and strong, they are extraordinary runners, way ahead of the field. Not just tackling ultra fell runs like mountain goats, but whizzing along tarmac like the great cartoon roadrunner himself. Even without much in the way of response, it was brilliant fun when you did see someone you ‘knew’ even if only by association. When we as a Shelter mob saw one of our own we went wild! Who knew it could be so exciting? However, it’s harder than you think to multi task at the side lines. Cheering, clapping, trying to attract the attention of your designated runner etc, gets in the way of actually taking photos of them. Probably just as well, as mine weren’t the best quality on the whole. Still, everyone likes to see photos of themselves in action right? It’s part of the post run debrief and reliving all the fun… Type two fun is still fun, we all know that.
So as I said at the start, this marathon malarkey is indeed a test of endurance. I might have felt like my energy levels were becoming seriously depleted, but there was no thought of slacking off. There were still so many more runners to look out for – the world record attempts to be ticked off for starters in our Marathon Bingo quest. I’m sure there were loads more than I actually espied. Some had helpful labels visible on them so you knew to give them an extra cheer. Some choices of kit were more runner friendly than others. I struggle to see how running the marathon carrying a tumble drier ever seemed like a brilliant plan, but hey ho, he was out there. Mr Potato Head was pretty good, and then there were miscellaneous unidentified Official World Record attempt contenders. Make of them what you will. I never got to see the guy who was trying to run the whole thing in Wellington boots. I don’t even want to think what that will do to his feet. I’m very proud of the composition of my world record attempt at a tree running shot, even if it was inadvertent. A veritable Birnam Wood on the move there methinks!
As well as the world record attempts, there was a reasonable scattering of more modest fancy dress offerings. Not that many though to be honest. I’d expected loads, there are a fair few, but it’s still a minority of the participants, not too many duplicates either. Just as well, can you imagine how annoying it would be to roll up as a sea urchin or whatever and find a whole rock pool’s worth hanging around at the start? There were a fair few dinosaurs, but seemingly different species, plus there were some fine London landmarks too, complementing the London skyline. You don’t see those traditional red phone boxes so much any more, great to see one at least running today!
Then, as if that wasn’t more than enough excitement for one day, there were the mandatory naked men. Well, part naked, fine torsos thrust forward and running strong. This is all well and good in theory, but my fear is that all this exhibitionism will ultimately come to nothing. Just as a run doesn’t count unless it is on strava, a race didn’t happen unless you make the official photos. Those who bravely – recklessly even – removed their tops, and with it their race numbers en route, will have no way of ever finding themselves in the official photos of the day which are searched by number. Oh well. Never mind, I expect it means they will be thrilled I have caught their moment of glory. There was one notable exception to this by the way. The global runderwear ambassador had it sussed, wearing his number as a sort of fig leaf arrangement to great effect. Classy. My regular reader knows we have our own runderwear ambassador at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, but dare I say I think this might be a more official rep. (I’ve never seen our local ambassador running just in her bra and knickers.) No wonder there is no chafing if the requirement is you wear only their pants whilst running. I don’t recall that directive being on the operating instructions for their products – and I am an advocate and wearer of the pants myself. Probably a blessing to the people of Sheffield to be fair… Talking about chafing, I’m sure that heart monitor one guy is wearing is poorly positioned, it’s going to take more than an open palmed woman proffering copious amounts of vaseline to remedy that nipple chafing risk in my view…
Then there was a scattering of bare footed runners. Clearly however, for some running without trainers isn’t challenging enough, as one of these found a literal cross to bear and lugged timber round with him too. Another was decked out as a mister man character… not just any Mr Man, oh no, but Mr Rush! Genius. There were some practical implications of the ‘no shoes’ choice though, as the VLM issue timing tag was intended to be worn on a trainer. Mr Rush and JC has got around this with I think an ankle option, but one runner at the 40km mark, had to touch the ground three times to scan his timer as he passed over the official timer mats. Not what you need after 25 miles running I’m guessing.
Some people let their outfits or efforts speak for themselves. Some were frankly showing off, but hey, you know what, some really impressed me. Top contenders were any runner at all who took time to work the crowd on the way past (there were a few) and these two people. The guy who leapt from timer mat to timer mat like he was taking flight, and the cool runner who appeared to be doing the whole thing whilst ‘effortlessly’ playing with his balls! I know! Eye catching indeed.
Oh, and there was the Morris Dancer. Didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately, but when he came dancing and hanky waving down the embankment, the other side of the barrier was a whole team of Morris Men, mirroring his moves. Hilarious. Genius. Inspiring. You had to be there. What team work too.
And on the subject of team work, pushing a manual wheelchair round with its ‘just chilling’ occupant is no mean feat either, just saying:
It seems not everyone who had their assets on display did so intentionally. So The Mirror reported. I am not aware of any such corkers in my photo gallery. Nor do I approve of such red top reporting. Well, not in theory anyway, in practice of course I had a look, and as it’s in the public domain anyway, it would be hypocritical not to share…. Anyway, that’s not the only thing this guy had out to impress. He was also second in his class so he had the last laugh for sure.
Heads together headband spotting was also a thing. Well it was for me anyway, but then again, I’m well-known for making my own entertainment in unlikely ways. My favourite sightings were where it was used as part of fancy dress. The WaterAid camel and handler combo therefore especially pleased me. Actually, not all that many runners wore them. That may have disappointed the organisers, but personally I wouldn’t embark on a 26.2 mile run with a new bit of kit, especially something as irritating as a headband. Still, fair play to those that sported them, looking good!
Nigh on 40,000 runners took part in the 2017 London Marathon, I forgot to count, and I was also really pleased I wasn’t volunteer time-keeper for the event, imagine how stressful that would be clicking times as hordes pass under the finish arch! Bad enough at a parkrun! After about 3.30 p.m. the field started to open out, and more elaborate fancy dress options appeared. I was in awe of the Save the Rhino team especially. Those costumes are quite something. Also, and I know this is shallow and possibly harsh, whilst the costumes are great for raising the profile of this important cause, (and rhino conservation is most definitely a cause close to my heart) in fact – the truth is that the runners themselves are pretty anonymous whatever the A4 sheet with the name on may proclaim Basically it could be anyone in there. So Rhino Runners, for what it is worth. Respect! Hope you all made it. I’m sure you had to dig deep in those last few miles.
Most of the other cheerers and supporters had started to peel away from about 2.30 / 3.00 but I had made a promise. My new best friend (who I’d met at the marathon-themed Southwark parkrun the day before) was running and expecting to be way at the back of the field. I said I’d stay for her, but when to expect her? What if I missed her? Finally, I looked at my phone, and there it was, like a gift heaven-sent, a message from Cheetah Buddy, my Sheffield friend and now my own personal London Marathon Communications Manager. There were loads of texts giving estimated times for lots of runners I knew around the course. Curses, why had I not looked at this earlier? Still, not to worry, the faster runners were in less need of my shouting. There was an ETA for the purple army marathon runner, and what’s more it worked! I was there and I saw her, and she was looking strong. How brilliant, what a great way to end my own marathon of spectating! Even better, I screamed loudly enough to get a sunny smile and wave. Finally, a runner saw me too!
Hunger, thirst, a stiff neck and a need to find a loo finally conspired to make me decide to take my leave at this point, it was gone 5.30 though so that was a solid eight hours I’d been at my post. Great though, quite an adventure. Walking along the course a short way was good, other supporters and motivational signs were there still offering encouragement to the final finishers.
Another Shelter cheerer stalwart, who knew London rather better than me was also departing. Together we wandered over to Horse Guards to see the finish. It was bathed in sunshine, still quite a bit of activity, and you got some sense of the logistics. There were meeting areas, some loos, and a fabulous photo backdrop. Cheery (and exceptionally tall) police were on hand to give directions. The one I asked was worried I’d just taken a photo of him blowing his nose. I don’t think I did, not intentionally. I’ll have a look:
From here, we decided to seek out the Shelter post run support. It was in a very grand building and up a great many stairs – though I think there was a lift for the runners which is just as well because I don’t think they’d have welcomed skipping up even so much as a kerbstone after what they’d just accomplished. The reception was winding down, so although obviously runners were the priority they’d all had refreshments and we were welcome to assist in polishing off some rather fine sandwiches and some mediocre coffee. For future reference, for runners there was hot food and massages, as well as lots of comfy seats and areas for photos. It was pretty good. It made me appreciate that if you did opt to run the marathon with a charity place there are definitely some benefits in terms of the support you get as part of the deal. Plus, you’ll more than likely get some decent action photos of your big day. I’d consider it for sure. There is the awkward fund-raising bit, but weirdly I think I’d be more comfortable asking for sponsorship now I’ve seen the effort that goes into it all. It’s quite something this challenge. Not one to take on lightly. I dare say some will question the grandeur of the surroundings given the cause, but I’m sure that’s factored into the day, nigh on half a million pounds was raised by the running team today, it’s fair enough they get a reception area afterwards. Loads of other charities were sharing the space by the way. Seems to be a post marathon thing.
Replete with sandwiches I decided it was time to head off. Departing back to the station I saw the most inspirational sight of the whole day. It was probably gone 6.30 by now, and the roads were being swept and cleared, barriers thrown on the back of lorries, and people in hi-viz trailing off on map. In the distance I could see a solitary runner for (I think) Children with Cancer – couldn’t quite make out the top to be fair. Anyway, I’m guessing he wont have made the cut off, but you know what, he was still going, on the pavement now, with almost deserted roads. He was in the distance, and with just about a mile still to go, I heard some people sitting on a wall give him a cheer and got a blurry photo of him raising his hand in acknowledgement.
Yes, it might be a cliché, so what, some people talk of inspiration fatigue, I thought that was pretty goddarned amazing.
Charity runner, whoever you are, you were not invisible to me. You are awesome, and yes, for me inspirational. That’s quite some marathon you nailed there, medal or not! There is awesomeness at both ends of this running challenge. Believe it.
And so it ends.
Same time next year?