Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tales from the front line

The Virgin London Marathon is a truly spectacular event. With over 37,000 people successfully making it to the start line the statistics only get better from there:

750,000 bottles of water
1,250 portable toilets (and 400 urinals)
6,000 volunteers (Not including start/finish and course marshals which account for another 6,000)
7,200 Blogs!
30ish Sandhurst Joggers!

and many, many cheering crowds.

With my sign safely stashed on the Sandhurst Joggers coach, I accompanied the 50 runners to the start area at some stupid time in the morning, which I wasn't completely sure existed. Lots of nervous chattering on the way into London and a brief state of madness, when my competitive side tried to encourage the bus driver to race the other coaches (it didn't work - he's good at his job) and we were there. The organisation is second to none with clear signs (and giant balloons) guiding the runners to their correct starting zones.

With my huge sign in my hand I started my own journey to my cheering point. Having only decided on the coach that morning that I was heading for mile 17, it turned out I'd made a very good decision. Mile 17 is just in front of the Crossharbour DRL tube station and is equipped with everything a spectator needs including a pub with a live band, a wall to sit on whilst waiting and an ASDA (with toilets!). I recommend it to anyone wanting a good place to watch - I was at the front and had lots of room with no one behind me (making leaving to get the tube again very easy).

It wasn't long before the elites came zooming past. A group of kids next to me didn't really understand the difference between elites and normal runners, so the world champions were cheered along with accompanying kids shouts of 'believe in yourself - you can do it!'. If they'd ever doubted that they would finish, this hopefully gave them an added boost, as well as drawing a smile to those standing nearby.

Then began the slow and steady flow of the mass runners. I take my imaginary hat off to each and every one of you. The sun had come out to contradict the UK's rainy habit and boy was it hot hot hot. Many runners were struggling to cope with dehydration, but the vast majority just kept on going, aided by the frantic cheering crowds eager to help and motivate those to do something that they themselves might never achieve.

It's a really humbling experience watching people loosing their voices and getting blisters on their hands as they cheer for strangers they will probably never meet. An old man stood next to me waiting to see his granddaughter and was doing his best to shout out every name he could read from runners' vest tops!

I found it really difficult to spot the people I knew - often to the stage where they were practically waving in my face before I noticed them. I did my best to cheer everyone and try to provide added support to those that I knew (and could see), but the sheer amount of people becomes hypnotizing after a while. Soon I was ready to do a battle of my own as I attempted to transverse London on the Underground carrying a huge sign.

For once people were helpful (a rarity on London transport on any other day) as they made room for me (although being bashed on the head by a huge cheering sign does tend to make you move) and I enjoyed the banter that usually went along the lines of "running 26.2 miles? Pah they should try spectating!" and various other jokes that we all found very funny at the time but now I think about them they were pretty rubbish.

I found a few Sandhurst Joggers lounging (nice word for collapse) in St. James Park and I set up the 'meeting point' for the return coach journey. My crowd management skills turned out to be pretty poor as I did my best to round everyone up ready for the journey back to the coach. It is probably safe to say that it's a good job I am not organising the marathon, or the start would be delayed by hours whilst I waited for people that had got out of bed late or got stuck in the traffic!

Then to top the day off I sent the majority of the group off to the coach and then followed up with about 6 runners who I then got a little bit lost. Lesson learned: Marathon runners do not enjoy walking more than they have to after a race. My bad - we all know my navigational skills are on par with a goldfish though so I can't really be to blame.

So (mostly) we all got back safely. I had a wonderful day and am so so proud of all our runners who completed the course. I wont list you all because just like coach monitoring I am bound to forget someone, but you're all amazing and I hope your legs have recovered a bit now. I also want to mention all the volunteers we provided for the finish line - good work guys! Having helped marshal before I know it's a long old day but hopefully an extremely rewarding one and I can't wait to (hopefully) see some of you at the finish line next year!

Oh and as a shameful self-plug the sign made it into the Guardian newspaper write up:

Well I wasn't just going to let that pass was I?

So how can I sum the day up?
Long (in both distance, time and the queues for the tube)
Proud - for both our capital city putting on an amazing effort and for all the runners and volunteers.

So we all know spectating isn't really my thing, although I seem to be getting the hang of it, but there is no where I would have rather been on Sunday.

Here's to joining you all next year!

Keep inspiring!

Biscuit Nikki x

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