Marathons are f****g stupid. They are designed to be that little bit too long. What kind of idiot would opt to run one?!
Well, there was a bus full of us, bleary-eyed and ready to enjoy a relaxed early-morning cruise to Blackheath. Unfortunately, London Marathon day brings a few inexorable truths: it will be too sunny; somebody will ask how long it is; tourists will stand on the left of escalators; and the winding streets of Berrylands will prove too much even for the most experienced of bus drivers. And ours was not the most experienced of bus drivers. Nevertheless, one three-point turn later and our coach was whizzing as far as the Tolworth Roundabout, where it turned right… One trip around the M25 later, via a quick drop off for one poor soul and partner who were devoid of running number (did they make it in the end?), and we arrived at Blackheath… Well, a mile and half from Blackheath. The driver missed the turn. But at least we didn’t end up in the Blackwall Tunnel. And what’s an extra mile and a half in your legs before the start, ‘eh?
So one walk up Greenwich Hill later and we were at the start, where we could no longer hide from the sun. Kevin Parker had sensibly opted for some clumps of ginger hair (no, not his actual hair) in an attempt to protect himself from the sun’s damaging rays. It’s harder to explain the hotpants and fishnets, beyond perhaps experimentation in tanning patterns. Even at the front of the red start, where sinewy old men (and younger folk who should be partying harder) have earned their starting positions, it was possible to see all manner of weird and wonderful fancy dress. Last year I was bemused by excited shouts of “Jack” as I ran – how did they know my name, I thought – only for Captain Jack Sparrow to come cruising by at World Record pace (for a pirate). The London Marathon is a seething mass of humanity. Tens of thousands of people committing to doing something beyond the boundaries of what their bodies permit. And some of them choose to make it even harder for themselves in order to raise money for worthy causes. Rhinos, fridges, babies, vegetables, animals, superheroes and Kev, we salute you.
Lining up at the start is a bit like awaiting a major band at a music festival. There’s a lot of jostling for position, pissing in bottles and everything smells very male. The start flings you out east, where you merge with (well, several metres behind) the pros and (several metres ahead of) the celebrities, before you continue to hurtle downhill to always-noisy Greenwich. The general support was excellent this year, buoyed as it was by the wonderful (evil) weather. And the support from our own fellow club members was as frequent and raucous as ever: very many thanks, all of you, as it really does help.
I don’t know how it is for the rest of you, but I find the prospect of running 26 miles unfathomable (which might be why I’ve only managed it, without stopping, the once). To cope, I break the race up in my head. So, from Greenwich it’s to miles 9 and 10, where I know people will be waiting on usually desolate roundabouts. From there it’s the bridge: London’s highlight, for me at least. Then halfway, which is both elating and soul-destroying in equal measure. Then the difficult trudge to 17 and The City (arseholes), before 20. Then it’s “just” a 10k home, albeit the hardest 10k you’re likely to run all year.
Well, London broke me this time. I ran the last nine miles with cramp, possibly induced by last weekend’s stag do in Budapest, and the 3-day hangover that followed the “Magic Bath Party”. A fair few others found the sunshine and distance hard work as well. As Danny put it, in the final mile, “I’m walking because I feel dizzy and I don’t want to die”. Even Mo Farah struggled, which I’m almost pleased about, as it shows just how hard this whole marathon thing is when Britain’s greatest ever distance runner is a bit shocked.
There were, of course, some great performances and some excellent PBs recorded. K. Wilson’s 3:09, Libby’s 3:27 and Maria’s sub 5 stand out, as perhaps does Greg’s sub 4. Mark Weight deserves an honourable mention for finishing, given he was tripped at mile 4, split his toenail in half, and ran the next 22 miles with a trainer full of blood. Nice. He still finished in 3:14.
At the end, The Red Lion did its bit in rehydrating us, as we compared suntans and sunburns. Unfortunately the rehydration was going a little too well and we ended up having to run for the train, which is always fun after a marathon. But at least we didn’t have to get the bus back.