Go Random Stranger, Go! Motivating Marathoners, London 2022

Me and my EWFM got to cheer every, single, marathon runner at London this year. Isn’t that grand.

I already knew she was a keeper obvs, an EWFM (Erstwhile Flat Mate) being for life not just for Christmas and all, but just in case you need a bit of triangulation in your evidence base because you consider me too close to the research to retain any objectivity, how many people do you know who would relocate from the North of the Country to London and find a house on the actual route of the London Marathon entirely for your benefit, to enable you to have a more manageable marathon watching experience post illness a few years down the line? Hang on let me guess! Oh, that’s right, none at all! Only me! I have the best EWFM ever. A while ago I was contemplating that, in a dark world, I am grateful for my BFF/EWFM. Something I heard on the radio about the importance and rarity of friendship perhaps struck a chord anyways, it led me to resolve that next time I saw her, I’d make a point of telling her that I feel really lucky to have found such a friendship in my life. Well dear reader, you can just imagine the look on her face when I announced to her on arrival that ‘I really don’t what I was thinking of when I reflect on us becoming friends’. Her look was an absolute picture. I can only assume she feels the same. Another rare and precious memory shared. Lucky us. Isn’t that touching?

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Anyway, fast forward from our first meeting 39 years ago, to this London Marathon weekend 2022.

In an irony wasted on neither of us, our weekend activities revolved entirely around running related rollicking good fun. We were not noticeably running enthusiasts back in the day – unless you count putting on a bit of wiggle to get home in time for early evening neighbours now and again. Oh, and maybe running a bath (not an ice one) from time to time. Yet here we are, four decades on, and it was all about feeling the running love. We’d been to her local Charlton parkrun to join their first birthday celebrations on the Saturday. Did I mention she’d also arranged a birthday party parkrun at Charlton and ordered in a new pale blue parkwalk high vis especially for me too? No? Well she did. Like I said, a rare and precious find indeed. Also, whilst on the subject of extraordinary things, finally a parkrun high vis that I can fit into, hurrah for all the good things happening! This clothing option might even be borderline flattering, though to be fair, I’ve cheated a bit by having my best side photographed and distracting your gaze with a helium balloon. This are just tricks of the trade I’ve picked up in my film and tv career. Works for me. Look on in wonder and learn.

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Yes, I parkwalked, I know. I only said ‘running related‘ I didn’t commit to us actually running anywhere. I can’t at the minute anyway as perhaps you know dear reader, but I can dream and enjoy celebrating the running aspirations and achievements of others. In further running related activity-ness we may also have done some sofa sitting and extensive planning to ensure our marathon watching experience would be optimal. In preparation for the 42,000 odd people who’d be trailing past her front door on London Marathon day on Sunday. It was going to be amazing. To clarify and to be fair, they may not all have been completely odd, but a fair proportion must be to embark on a marathon at all. This is not a bad thing, au contraire, individuality is what makes people interesting and there were certainly some classic individuals pounding the London streets this marathon day. It lifts the heart to see them.

We would cheer each and every one.

Clearly, we needed to tool up. Cheering ‘each and every one’ is fine in theory, but requires some planning. This was after all a marathon not a sprint, we couldn’t just rock up unprepared and expect to be able to maintain our energy and focus without some forward planning. For starters, to achieve this aim in practise we obviously required some generic signs, but then we would also need some person specific ones for particular friends we’d said we’d be looking out for. It was only fair they looked out for us too, but we recognised they might need a bit of help in spotting us. Fortuitously, the nice people at the London Marathon had put the 4 mile marker pretty much directly outside our house. Well, my EWFM’s house, and my residence for the weekend. Hurrah! Disappointingly, it wasn’t an actual arch across the road with balloons as in previous years, but it was still definitely a mile marker, shouldn’t be too hard to spot. And the four mile marker is early enough in the event that passing marathoners hopefully wouldn’t yet be bleeding from the eyes so much they could no longer make out any details smaller than Tower Bridge. It would be grand. We’d be to the left of it, high up, looking down on the road from some railings. We could make this work.

Saturday afternoon became an extended craft activity. Granted, I did take on more of a hands off supervisory role at times, because my EWFM has patience, a creative talent and an eye for the aesthetic, well, two eyes to be fair. I mainly did sticking things down, being trusted to go outside with an aerosol of glue where there was better ventilation and a reduced possibility of me sticking random household items together never again to be parted. I also did some colouring in of letters with a marker pen AND some drawing round the stuck out letters so they stuck out more. So pretty busy in fact. Oh, and I also did google some sign ideas and show some enthusiasm, which I think we can all agree is also tremendously important, helps to keep teams motivated. Besides, giving a creative genius the necessary space to do their thing was actually exceedingly insightful of me. I was not only a motivator but enabler too. The signs would have been nothing without me. Sign building was a great activity as it provided a cover for us basically sitting about and drinking industrial quantities of tea, which are two of my favourite things. Doing so in the company of my EWFM not seen in too many months being the icing on the actual cake, and we may have had some of that too. All needs catered for.

Look at the sign making factory though – you have to grant we did good!

Gin? I see no gin. It’s just a decorative bottle.

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Like I said, I was mainly supervising. Quality control, that sort of busy and importantness. Also, I was extremely good at keeping out of the way*. As a wise old woman once said: ‘I be old, and I be wise, and it isn’t helpful unless you are helping‘. Wise she was indeed!

So sign wise, we had the generic ‘go stranger, go!’; person specific ‘go Mark, go’; because we were cheering someone called Mark; person specific ‘go Arif, go’; because were also cheering someone called Arif (I know, spooky telepathic communication if you guessed that already) and generic ‘You run better than the government’; (made us laugh) another ‘Only 7 1/2 parkruns to go!’ (too cruel as well as not mathematically completely accurate?) and last but not least a huge ‘Hello Mum’ sign. Well, if we did make it onto the telly, it would be too good an opportunity to miss. Any besides, somebody’s mum would be running out there and might think it was for them, and that would be grand too.

We didn’t stop at the signs though. Oh nosy no. We also had excellent noise making things. I had come tooled up. Having acquired a football rattle from my gifted neighbour over the road in Sheffield. He actually made it himself, as a noise-creating asset to contribute to the ‘clap for carers’ during the pandemic. Do you remember that? When we clapped NHS and other staff so they wouldn’t notice the daily trauma of being trapped in PPE and feeling helpless as they worked long shifts trying to support desperately ill people who were unable to see loved ones and not being paid properly and parties at number 10? He made it back then. There’s not a lot of cheering and clapping going on for such front line workers anymore, but ill wind and all that, it meant I got free rein with a bespoke football rattle to cheer random strangers at the London Marathon, so I hope the crumbling NHS structures and the exhausted people working in the caring professions will take comfort in that. Vain hope is still hope after all. Apparently.

Nice rattle though, and some castanets too.

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Oh, and I took Geronimo too. She is actually a marathon veteran, having accompanied me round in 2018, it seemed fitting to have her helping to secure our position. You will see that EWFM brought led lit tambourines to the party, as well as string for sign securing purposes, we had this nailed!

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Morning came, and out we went to set our pitch. It was very exciting, and we had all the things. AND we found we had inadvertently, but perhaps not completely unsurprisingly, put on matchy matchy outfits. Contra bottom layer and personalise apricot tees with ‘parkrun is for life, not just for Christmas’, which it is, just as is an EWFM. Great minds eh? Also, we figured the apricot would catch the eye of fellow parkrunners, we’d be a parkrun cheer station all of our own. It is only fitting. Much of my training for cheering fellow runners has come from unrestrained clapping and vocal supporting of parkrunners at junior parkrun as well as 5k events. We were just taking that transferable skill to a new context. We’d nail it. I should point out that EWFM has cheered at the London marathon at this very spot before, so particularly experienced on this count, but then again, I’ve been cheered at by her at this very point, so we could identify the best cheering techniques from all possible angles. Ethnographic research of the highest order.

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And it was that attention to detail that saw us present as below. Not gonna lie, we were pretty proud of ourselves, and I think you can agree rightly so!

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We were out in good time as we wanted to see all the elites and wheelchair races too. A neighbour came to join us, and neighbourly exchanges were made regarding it being a good spot to cheer from and expressing disappointment re the lack of an actual arch. Also, naturally, we commented on the weather. The forecast had been for a LOT of rain, but in fact it seemed to be pretty much perfect running conditions. Early drizzle had passed and it was a bit cloudy and a bit on the cool side, but basically dry, with roads swept clean by over night rain. Not gonna lie, I had a bit of running envy if I’m honest. I am pleased for them all, truly I am, but so wish I could be joining the throng.

Undeterred, we started to practice our cheering and whooping and enthusiastic and energetic support of anything passing us that moved. I rather regret being too confused to properly whoop a pair of runners on the far side of the road, who I realised with the benefit of hindsight were probably doing their virtual London marathon on the actual route before it started. Good call. Some vehicles and out riders breezing by were far too cool to react to our frantic displays. I wonder if this is what male paradise birds feel like when prospective mates just ignore their efforts? Probably. It’s certainly crushing. Never mind, it isn’t the people that ignored us that mattered, it was those who engaged. Particularly this purple jacketed cycling guy. Who pulled up at the Mile 4 marker and appreciated our efforts enough to have an actual chit chat. What’s more – get this – he’s an actual parkrunner too, so officially awesome every parkrun day as well as today when presumably he was holding out bottles for his nominated elite runner to grab without breaking stride. I think for now he was just checking his runner was ok, as he waited for them to come through, then cycled on, other purple clad cyclists taking his place. Sort of circle of live for TCS London Marathon fluid and nutrition team. Not that he’s actually dead as such, just moved on to his next spot, with another cyclist taking his place for their runner and so it continues. Isn’t he jolly though! Great ambassador for the event. No, he isn’t facing the wrong way, just looking out for his runner. I think he’s done this before.

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This isn’t a role I’d particularly noticed before, but you know how Eliud Kipchoge just broke the world marathon record in Berlin the other week? Well he did, but his efforts were aided by his water bottle handler Claus-Henning Schulke. Someone has put together a video sequence of the handovers, and they are indeed heart warming as well as impressive. The way he punches the air and shoots off on his bike after every successful transfer is just brilliant to see! What a hero!

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We felt the same elation every time our efforts to cheer participants was rewarded. Yep, we were angling to get on the telly too, but to no avail, the elite participants are way too focused to take anything in beyond the road in front. Still amazing to watch though. To be so close to elite athletes is really something, you get a sense of what the human body is capable of. Looking at the wheelchair athletes made me a bit ashamed of how incapacitated I am by my feet and legs at the moment. Also, it was quite tiring just spinning the football rattle for a bit, I can’t imagine propelling a wheelchair with my weight in it for all those miles. There is a reason why the London marathon stirs such strong emotions. It is a cliche I know, but it’s true nevertheless that this is a truly inspirational sight. Every person out there has a story. You don’t need to know them all, just recognise they are valid. Each participant has a different goal, for some just getting to the start line is an achievement, let alone the finish. I celebrate them all.

Meantime, we celebrated the outriders tampering with setting the digital timing thingy before the mass start. I got quite confused by this as the women and wheelchair riders had already been through, and then it occurred to me that at that level they probably aren’t relying on what a digital clock says at each mile marker, probably have a helping hand from pacing teams, as well as their own gps. I wonder if they also feel ‘if it ain’t on strava it didn’t happen’. I imagine so. Did anybody ever to go out running at all before that? Probably not, what would be the point. Couldn’t even really draw rude dinosaur strava art for the world to see on your run routes! Hardly worth leaving the house for.

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Elites out of the way, we could focus on tracking the app for people we knew, and for people others in the crowd new. Because we were high up we had a pretty good success rate in seeing those we hoped to. Unfortunately, despite our amazing signs, some were so in the zone they inexplicably failed to see us. Gutted! Also, turns out, when you are cheering and sign waving and everything it’s actually really hard to take photos too, but we had the interaction and that’s more important. So exciting when you do see someone. Yay to those we saw and screamed at. That was super fun.

We are also listeners to the unofficial parkrun podcast With Me Now, and very excitingly, did spot a fully merched fellow listener among the throng, we screamed and screamed but to no avail, oh well, these things happen. Fortunately though, but this point, we’d been joined by another WMN supporter (it’s not a cult, definitely not) who’d come with her family to share the vantage point and the fun, so she snapped a pic, and shared the moment too. All good. Plus, she takes the best selfies. Action shot of all of us and in focus and relatively flattering too. What a star. Geronimo was fading a bit, but it’s hard being a giraffe tied to some railings, so understandable in the circumstances I suppose.

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It was a bit frustrating to only realise after the event that there were some other participants I knew from parkrun, but didn’t realise they were running this year, check out Endcliffe parkruns very own cardiac runner, fab official photo there. Oh well. Always next year.

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Once those we actually knew had passed by with varying amounts of interaction, and no actual lingering for pictures, we could relax into more random supporting. This was great. The best tactic was to call names when they were on people’s numbers and avoid anyone wearing ear phones as they couldn’t hear anyway. My favourite thing was when some really got into that shared experience, more than one punched their chest with a ‘yes, I am a random stranger, I get that you are cheering for me‘ and that was BRILLIANT! We don’t get enough opportunity as adults to actually play, and for me cheering at a junior parkrun or here at the London marathon you are basically doing that. Making new friends through a shared experience, and it was just pure, innocent joy. All that is good in the world.

We also realised that you could repurpose the signs with names on if there were other Marks and Arifs around and there were! Though the Arif passed too quickly, and our reflexes weren’t all that on it for the Marks but we had fun trying to attract their attention. We are exceedingly good at making our own entertainment. It is a handy shared trait. Shouting at the pacers was a good shout too, literally as well as figuratively. I think on the whole pacers are running at a slower rate than they usually would so they are comfortable in the times and able to take it all in. We saved extra loud cheers for the 7hour plus pacers of which we saw a couple, though very confusingly one seemed to be amongst 4 hour flags. I know they start in three different lines and then merge, but even so, they must have had an earlier start for some reason.

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Also a source of entertainment and excellence were of course the myriad of fancy dress runners and record breaking attempt runners. A personal favourite though was the post box man who’d updated his pillar box with the new King Charles Cypher, I appreciate that attention to detail. Love a good bit of street furniture, and post boxes are especially brilliant for their cyphers. He was carrying a banana as he passed us, and still seemed to be carrying one at the end. I am left wondering if he couldn’t reach his arms up past his costume close enough to his mouth to eat it, never mind though, he got his picture on the telly and this blog post too, that has to be winning at life surely?

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Well done to the unicorn with the fastest time, though – don’t tell anyone – I think that’s a bit of a creepy unicorn. I prefer my unicorns a bit cuddlier, and less bipedal. But all the same, good job. Talking of cuddly things that you probably really oughtn’t to cuddle, did you know that as well as the London Marathon this week, it’s Fat Bear Week! I know! What a thought!

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As a slower runner and now a slow walker too, I was keen to stay out to cheer as many marathoners as possible. Eventually the field thinned out to but a trickle, I stayed for the firefighter who was walking it in full kit. Looking strong at the 4 mile stage, but way behind the others. It can be lonely out there. Was glad he made it. Some ahead of him were already struggling a bit. A few injured, some perhaps undertrained having underestimated the challenge, but mostly smiles, amazement and delight as participants streamed by.

This is determination though. Respect. Well earned medals – and the medals this year are outstanding. Best I’ve ever seen, and I know my bling, well worth all that running around for! Not just at the event, but in training for it too.

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After the firefighter, I couldn’t see anyone else, although the sweeper hadn’t yet been through so perhaps there were some. I felt a bit guilty not being out their for them, but with the lack of the external stimulus of a crowd of runners to cheer, I suddenly became aware I was in quite a bit of pain from standing for so long, even though I’d tried as much as possible to stand on just one leg to avoid stressing my sesamoids on my poorly foot. The upshot though was my other leg, the DVT one was protesting massively, and coming over all peculiar. I belong to a rather alarming American hosted DVT support group page, I try to disregard the spam sellers of snake oil panaceas – and not only because I’m vegetarian – and the alarmist ‘we are all going to die’ because of course we are, that’s what happens, unless you are an actual vampire, and that’s unlikely – and then you do get the occasional insight. One poster said they get this weird numbness, tingling, dead leg thing too, and call it ‘the crawlies‘ which made me feel a bit better, as that is quite an accurate word for what it feels like, and it made me feel less of a freak knowing someone else out there has it too. Anyways, as my body was disintegrating around me, and my arm hurt from football rattling and I needed not just a pee but a proper cup of tea, we agreed it was time to retreat inside and watch the coverage on the telly. That was great. Once again, running related activity, and all from the comfort of a sofa. #winningatathleticlife

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From the coverage, which was great, although also mind boggling as it slowly dawned on me watching participants we cheered by crossing through the finish arch many hours later, just how long some had been out there for. We also came to realise we had missed the guy who led the marathon briefly at the start. Give the man a medal! Oh wait, I think they did!

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The London Marathon is a marathon, not a sprint – obviously – but Richard Lee-Wright seemingly didn’t get the memo. As the race began yesterday (Sunday 2 October) the 38-year-old, from Devon, legged it out to the front of the pack, surging past the top athletes and punching the air in his luminous socks. Of course, he couldn’t keep that pace going the entire race, but it made the nation smile and his mission was accomplished.’

Truly magnificent, what a way to nab your 15 minutes of fame! To be honest, no mean feat either, those elite runners are not exactly slacking on the way round. Great job, smacks of Run Fatboy Run! Which I recall as being a highly watchable film, though always a bit hesitant recommending any film in case I’ve misrememebered stuff. I’ve still not got over the embarrassment of taking some American visitors to see a panto whilst they were in the UK. I don’t like panto really, but felt it was quintessentially British, and something they should see as they were here over Christmas. I’d forewarned them about the cross dressing, pantomime Dames, singalongs, audience participation ‘Oh yes I had!’ but somehow, as the curtain rose on a production of Aladdin, recalled to my horror and theirs, I’d forgotten the casual racist stereotyping as Wishy Washy’s laundry opened for business. Uh oh. Shudder at the very thought.

So that was that really, just one final observation. The TV coverage included a bit about the mini marathons for junior runners that had taken place the day before. Leaving aside the little detail that one of the winners in his age group taking part in this event which is very much a race and not a run was a Graves junior parkrunner from Sheffield. Isn’t that cool. A noticeably good runner, hurrah for him..

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That’s great and all, but my absolutely favourite participant in the whole weekend of marathoning was the little girl interviewed about taking part in the mini marathon who said – with a wisdom beyond her years in my opinion – ‘I don’t really like running, but I just really, really want a medal’ This is how ultrarunners start out. She’ll be grand.

🙂

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And then it was done.

Learning points from today, having an EWFM living on the route of the London Marathon is a boon. Having 42,000 marathon runners pass you by whilst you cheer them on is a great distraction from pain. Drinking tea is always a win. A good day. I thank you. Same time next year? Well now actually, because we don’t have to wait that long any more, just 200 days to go (less by now) as London will be back in April 2023. Oh wow. Time will fly. It’s going to be emotional.

Thanks for joining me for the run and the read. A marathon not a sprint on all counts. And this was certainly the cheeriest of days in a long while. We all need that. I wish you good cheer and good cheer squads in your running related adventures too.

’til next time.

*mostly

Categories: marathon | Tags: | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Go Random Stranger, Go! Motivating Marathoners, London 2022

  1. Thanks for this reflection on your marathon efforts, spectating at the LM last Sunday. Well done to the BFF/EWFM Support Team. It brought it all back from LM 2018 (the hot one) and again in 2021 (“the wall of sound” as I crossed over Westminster Bridge to take up my penultimate cheering position on the embankment). I think I still have our poster somewhere, which Cathy made stating ” The pain is temporary, but the bragging rights last forever”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thanks for commenting! It is properly fun supporting isn’t it, and sign making an art form. Well done for being ace supporters as well as runners in your own right. The London Marathon would be nothing without all us cheerers doing our bit eh? Take care. Lx

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