The Virgin London Marathon
This really doesn’t need much of an introduction, being arguably the most iconic race in the UK. The inaugural marathon in 1981 had 7,741 entrants, 6,255 of whom completed the race. Sunday saw the 39th London Marathon, with over 42,000 registering at the Excel centre to start.
How to get a place
It’s certainly not an easy race to get into. Some 444,168 people applied in the ballot for a place, 7.3% more than last year, and 56,398 were successful. There are charity places available for those who can raise the money for their chosen causes also, as well as the club place.
This year saw the first for a while that didn’t have a club coach available, so most WJ runners opted to travel on the train Saturday to collect numbers (see below) and stay over. A couple of us stayed around the Docklands area near the expo, others stayed nearer the start. It is possible to get the train down on the Sunday morning, and for all participants showing their number, there’s free transport in London all day pretty much. Despite a bit of angst about getting to the start, there are so many people travelling that way, and the regular announcements on the transport systems meant getting there was nice and easy.
Expo and Race HQ
Number collection is at the Excel centre in Docklands as part of the Expo and is available from Wednesday through to Saturday at 5pm. We arrived to about 11.30am on the Saturday and it was crazy mad. Didn’t really get to see much of the expo itself, way too crowded and a non-running husband in tow carrying a rucksack was not conducive to a relaxing time, though the actual collecting of the number and chip was quick and efficient. We did walk by later on though, and my advice would be if you can’t collect it in the week or have someone collect it for you, then 4 o’clock it is very quiet, though there may be less freebies available right at the end.
As for Blackheath start (Blue) well the atmosphere starts building very early on, as do the toilet queues obviously, There’s also tea and coffee available, again if you don’t mind queuing, but to be fair they do move quick. Large screens and announcements keep you well informed of timings of the baggage lorries leaving and what time to get to your starting areas. There was a bit of a chilly wind on the heath, unlike last year, but plenty of people to shelter behind, and amazing camaraderie.
The start area is split off into sections based on expected finishing time, and for the last couple of years has been staggered to supposedly prevent too much congestion later in the race….Hmmm …yes, more on that later. This meant that as part of Blue 6 I took 35 minutes to get across the start line, but it also meant the chance for a last minute trip to the loos near the start.
I’m not really familiar with areas of London but I’m sure many of you will be familiar with it from the TV so bear (or is it bare?) with me. The support right from the start is amazing, big crowds and if you have your name on your vest even better as they will cheer you on by name (especially important at later stages) There are 3 different start zones which converge I think at about 3 miles. I’ve been fortunate to run this twice now, and there’s one part where you can see up the road where the others are coming down to meet you, an incredible and somewhat moving sight to be honest. The Cutty Sark is also a great view point too. Drink stations and toilets are about every mile and half (they reduced the number this year to cut down waste apparently…but still had as many bottles? Yes, I couldn’t work that one out either.
Now that bit about reducing congestion, didn’t really work. In the first half there were places where for whatever reason the road narrowed, which meant it did become difficult to keep a steady pace going. Factor into this as well people randomly stopping suddenly to take selfies in the middle of the course, or to have a walk and a chat on their phone, or suddenly spotting someone they know in the crowd and randomly and without warning swerving across the road without checking the path was clear and it can become quite frustrating. Add to that people who would quite forcibly elbow you out of the way whilst they did this, and it made for a grumpy Sarah, though the pockets of strong passive dope smoking in this first half may have helped to chill things down a bit!
The second half for me was a different kettle of fish. North of the river once over Tower Bridge you get to run a section with runners going in the opposite direction, which some find disheartening but I quite enjoyed seeing it to be fair. The sections though Dockland and Canary Wharf were again full of spectators and lots and lots of drum bands, including in one of the underpasses, just amazing! Here there was less congestion, but more people walking by now to negotiate; this was mostly OK as they were guided to the sides where possible. This may be controversial, but it’s usually round about here that some people who have no concept of how far 26 miles actually is (I actually spoke to someone at the start who said the furthest he had run was 12 miles, but it was OK as he plays football and goes to the gym…..I just said that’ll be interesting for you then, good luck with that and walked off) really start to struggle. There were plenty of people providing first aid support around the course though.
Obviously, since the race there have been many reports of issues surrounding those running slower than 6 and a half hours, and this is something that the organisers will need to address, but I’m sure you find enough articles to read about it yourselves, I’m rambling on way too much as it is. Don’t worry dear readers though, I’ve nearly finished.
Just wow – running past Buckingham Palace and into the Mall with the deafening crowds is an amazing experience. Obviously with the delays at the start the big clocks don’t mean anything, but pretty much as soon as I crossed the line I got a text to tell me my time. With the weaving in and out of people I ended up actually running 26.6 miles (last time my watch said over 27!). The people handing out medals were all cheerful and enthusiastic too and it was straight forward collecting the T-shirt and goody bag (a little disappointing, too much “hippy” food for my liking, I mean, lentil chips? Really? I wanted proper ready salted crisps) then a steady walk to collect the bags. Lots of meeting points signposted as well for runners to meet up with spectators, you just need to make sure you decide beforehand. Once I remembered where it was I found the Werrington crew (who were fantastic as always out on the course) at the W tree, however, it took me another hour to track down my husband, not an easy task as he was an inexperienced London spectator and his phone was running out of charge!
It’s the London marathon! On so many peoples bucket list
Amazing crowds all the way round
Reasonable entry fee – if you get in it is still less than £40 which I think compared to some marathons even in this country is quite reasonable, with a nice t-shirt and hefty medal thrown in.
Friendly, well marshalled and well organised (from my point of view anyway)
Getting in, in the first place, the stats at the beginning speak for themselves
Crowded, especially in the first half
Personally, I think it is geared so much more as a charity event rather than a race, unless you run at a faster pace.
From a spectator point of view horrendous to get round the city to watch, many stations closed off due to overcrowding
It is an amazing experience, not necessarily one if you are actually going for a PB. It can also be highly frustrating to put all the effort in to train for it and see people who entered with no respect for the distance whatsoever, when there are so many I know who would love to get into it and would be more than willing to put the miles in to prepare for it. There were times, particularly in the first half, when my frustrations at the overcrowding etc caused me to question why I did it, but once I relaxed and just got on with it, it was fine. Was I put off entering the ballot for next year? That’ll be a no, though I did leave it 48 hours before signing up this time.