There’s not much that would get me up at 5:15 on a Sunday morning, but the London Marathon is definitely a reason, whether you’re running, or as I was this year marshalling. As a club Maidstone Harriers have been marshalling at London for nearly 20 years now, and I’ve been part of the team when I’ve not been running. We’re very lucky in that we have two of the most iconic locations on the course, Tower Bridge and Tower Hill, but it hasn’t always been quite so glamorous. The first year I did it I spent 4 hours down Greenwich Foot Tunnel directing spectators, and for the next three years we were part of the team directing spectators out of Tower Hill tube station, so those years we didn’t see a runner until we’d finished!
Once we’d proved to the organisers we could supply a team they asked us to look after the Tower Hill section of the course, and then Tower Bridge was added a few years later. As a club we run a couple of coaches on race day for runners, marshals and spectators, and as we have to drop off the runners at Blackheath before 8am we arrived at Tower Bridge early enough to take advantage of the handily placed Wetherspoon’s and fuel ourselves up on bacon rolls and coffee before taking up our positions.
Unlike a lot of races we aren’t there to direct runners – the course is fairly well marked out at London, and there’s plenty of runners to follow! We’re there to assist any runners who need help, and to offer a degree of protection to them as well. The Boston Marathon bombing and the recent event on Westminster Bridge mean that sadly the London Marathon has to be extra vigilant now, and this was evident with the number of police on the bridge, which is one of the most high profile parts of the route. Our team leader briefed us that we were to let him or the police know if we saw any suspicious activity or anything else that might concern us, but thankfully it was an incident free and enjoyable day.
First through were the wheelchair athletes, then the competitors in the IPC events followed. The buzz of helicopters off to the east indicated the imminent arrival of the elite women, with eventual race winner Mary Keitany and her pacemaker passing, then a long gap to the rest of the field, who even at 12 miles in were very strung out, including Jo Pavey, who didn’t look comfortable, and I wasn’t surprised to hear she later dropped out.
Speaking of athletes dropping out another function our club has taken in the last few years has been ‘Elite Athlete Rescue’. Generally speaking the pacemakers drop out somewhere on the Isle of Dogs loop, as do any elite runners who decide to abandon, and they are then escorted back to Tower Gateway DLR station, where we collect them and return them to the official race hotel right next to Tower Bridge. I did this a couple of years ago, and it’s something a bit different. I took some of the Kenyan pacemakers back who looked absolutely freezing even though it was quite a mild day! I was also lucky enough to get a photo with Denise Lewis who was in the hotel lobby, and this year I found myself standing opposite Strictly champion Ore Aduba on the Bridge, who was interviewing runners for the BBC, so I had to get a photo with him too!
Back to the race and the arrival of the elite men, with the lead pack cruising by at 5 minute mile pace. (That’s pretty much sprinting for me) with similar gaps between the rest of the elite men including the leading British runners. Just behind the Brits the good quality club runners come through, and what starts as a single file trickle slowly becomes a stream and eventually a tidal wave of runners as the masses come through, which carries on for a couple of hours until slowly they thin out again until eventually the sweeper coaches and the clean up teams come through at the back of the race.
Watching the masses come through is definitely the most fun part of the day, the excited faces (lots of people whipping out their phones), some pained expressions, the relentless cheering from the spectators, the costumes, including some that must be so difficult to run in and just the feeling of being part of such a fabulous event make it such a pleasure and a privilege to be there.
Once the clean up teams arrived we stood down and headed to the nearby Starbucks to check up on our phones how our club mates had got on. Some of our faster runners struggled a bit for various reasons, but further down there were some great performances including several PBs. There was just time for a quick beer in Wetherspoons before we made our way back to the coach and headed home.
As I write this entries for the 2018 race are now open, so I’ll have a go and see if I get lucky. I’ve also been mapping out the rest of 2017, so I’ll talk about that next time.
Good luck if you’re entering London for 2018, and don’t forget if you don’t get a place there are plenty of other great marathons out there.