Running a marathon is one of those things that appear on people’s bucket lists – along with a bungee jump, sky diving or climbing a particularly high mountain. I can safely say that none of those are on mine.
However, my little sister Charlotte, after doing a half marathon last year, decided to capitalise on the fact she’d trained and was half way there and signed up to do the London Marathon 2017 – raising funds for Asthma UK. She was massively dedicated to her training schedule – running come rain or shine, – and last Sunday headed off to run possibly the most famous marathon in the world through our capital city.
I should point out at this point that I’m not completely heartless – I waited for my sister to post her amazing blog about her actually RUNNING the London Marathon before posting this 😉 So please read what it was like to be an actual competitor!!!
But now – what it was like to be a spectator at the London Marathon!!!
Firstly – the preparation. This might not have been as excessive as it was for those actually running – but still, there were things to do!! It was even making me an insomniac. I knew there was an app that contained lots of info and maps, and the same with London Underground apps for getting about – but I’d also been told that phone reception in London on marathon day can be akin to New Year’s Eve, when everyone is trying to use the services at once – so I printed out hard copies of everything too.
There was also setting up the app to ensure you were tracking the people you were going to watch – and other randoms who you could ‘stalk’ around the course.
Then there was the fact that all of the food outlets would be RAMMED – so needing to carry supplies with you. I didn’t go quite as far as Kendal mint cake and powdered meals – but you’re getting the idea!!
The night before I did not abstain from booze like the runners – and enjoyed a pint of G&T in preparation!
I have to say I didn’t sleep well with the night before – a combo of nerves and excitement, so was up bright and early on the Sunday morning ready to face our mission. Comfy clothes and footwear were put on (I’d considered wearing a sports bra and putting Vaseline on my feet – but thought that might be a few steps too far……)
My parents arrived at 8am – and we, along with my 2 eldest kids, were ready to go! (I’d left the 2 younger kids with my husband with the instructions he was to take them summer shoe shopping – a task almost as Herculean as running a marathon!!)
A friend had been to spectate last year and I followed her advice for getting into London. We drove down the M40 to Amersham and parked at the station there. My Dad very kindly offered to pay for the parking – although it was actually free! But hey, it’s the thought that counts.
We’d decided to go straight to the first Asthma UK cheering Point at mile 12. This involved an overland train to Harrow on the Hill (which has replaced ‘Castle on the Hill’ in the Ed Sheeran song to us all now. All the LOLS!!) and 2 tubes round to Bermondsey.
This went RIDICULOUSLY smoothly – with us literally going straight from train to train. Consequently we were at mile 12 before Charlotte had even crossed the start line!!
As we were there so early we were able to watch the Elite men go through. There is a definite body shape for these amazing athletes – and I am pretty much the antithesis of this!!
After that came the masses. And there really were masses. It was quite hard to spot individuals, and at this point I was concerned as to how I would see my sister at all.
We spotted James Cracknell (randomly we’d rented his house in Devon over Easter – but I didn’t think it was the right time to tell him that his wifi appears to be dodgy) and then a friend of mine from back in the day at Southampton Uni (whom I almost missed as he’d put a bandana on post pre race photos and before getting to us. Thankfully his ‘City of Birmingham Striders’ top gave him away!).
The marathon app predicts what time the runners will hit certain points, and so as it was a while until Charlotte would arrive, I moved away from the railings to let other people get close to the action. I was still tracking runners on the app – and at one point told my kids that ‘Chappers off of Match of the Day 2’ was about to run past – 30 seconds before he actually did!!
We then knew my sister was getting close. At this point her husband and kids weren’t there! I knew they were close too – but from ‘Find my Friends’ with their phones they were making slow progress (this happens if you’re stopping at pubs on the way!!!) Thankfully they arrived in time (that is my brother in law and not Richard from Guess Who, just in case you were wondering!!)
and it was VERY emotional seeing out star runner in her amazing Little Miss leggings!!
There were sweaty hugs all round – and off she set again. At this point me, my Dad and my niece were all weeping RIDICULOUSLY! I have to say I’ve got emotional and cried watching the marathon on TV at home, but to actually be there and see someone you love doing it is intense!!
My photos from mile 12 are rubbish – and I won’t embarrass my lovely niece by including the photo of her sobbing!!
We were tracking my sister’s colleague who she has tirelessly fundraised with Charlotte for Asthma UK – but she was still 6 minutes behind – and we wanted to get off to the next cheer point at mile 20, so slightly guiltily, we headed off.
Because my sister had raised so much – she’d been given 3 tickets for the grandstand finish, so my brother in law, niece and nephew headed straight there – as not only did they need to get across London – there was also, unsurprisingly, tight security to get in – and they definitely didn’t want to miss her!
We ummed and ahhed about walking or getting the Tube – but decided to give public transport a go. It was really really busy – like leaving a concert or sporting event – but kept moving and we did another cross London journey in great time and made it to Westferry.
We knew Asthma UK had a steel band at this cheer point – which meant there location was very easy to find! They were great – but very very loud!!
We reckoned we had about an hour until my sister arrived – and we wanted to escape the noise – and I was desperate for a wee! I saw a small child going in the gutter next to a skip and did consider that (but then realised I was sober!) Mum had spotted a cinema, so we thought we’d pop there for refreshments and a wee (although sitting down in a comfy chair in a darkened room was also appearing!!)
Dad treated us (and did actually have to pay this time!) to nachos, sweets, water and coffees – and the cafe staff were lovely and amenable (even meeting Mum’s exacting coffee requirements!) We realised the loos were past where you needed to have a ticket to get to – but having just spent £20 in the cafe thought the staff member would let me through – but no, tickets only. The nice cafe man pleaded my case – but the chap stuck to his guns. (I did enquire what the cheapest ticket I could buy was to go for a wee – but decided £11.90 was extortionate for watching a film let alone just for a wee!!)
We headed outside – with me huffing and puffing about pedants. Everyone else camped out in the glorious sunshine (well done London on the weather, Dad could even sunbathe) and I went in search of a loo.
Thankfully the doorman at The Marriot was much more accommodating and so I partook of their facilities (and wifi simultaneously!).
After that it was back to the railings. At this point all of the runners looked tired. Whilst at 12 miles everyone has been bunched together and running – the crowds were much thinner and a lot of people were walking. I should add at this point, that walking is often in people’s training plan and plan for the day. My sister had a 5 minute run, 1 minute walk plan – from the start. (Although kept getting overexcited and running for longer than 5 minutes!) She’d found that overall in training this gave her a better time than just running and getting gradually slower and slower and slower. Unfortunately lots of spectators – and some fellow competitors – don’t realise this, and often shout encouragement at walkers – who quite stroppily reply ‘IT’S MY PLAN – I’M SUPPOSED TO BE WALKING AT THE MOMENT’!!!)
We shouted encouragement to lots of people as they went past. Interestingly my son seems to emulate his father rather a lot – and shouted encouragement mostly at attractive younger female runners!!
Then we saw her (after a false start as there was another Asthma UK runner with a similar hairstyle – but minus the funky leggings!)
She was a bit teary, and sounded a bit like when she was a small child, telling Mum that she was really tired and it hurt and needing a hug. Turns out that she’d found the bit between our 2 meetings the toughest of the whole race. More hugs. More passing on of half drunk bottles to Mum (because she knew Mum doesn’t like waste and would be hating the sight of things being thrown onto the roadside!!) And off she went again. Sods law the Asthma UK steel band were on a break at this point, so she didn’t even get to hear them!
We then knew the next bit was going to be the riskiest – would we get to mile 25 and the final Asthma UK cheering point on Embankment before Charlotte did? There was a minor incident getting on the DLR going in the wrong direction – but actually that probably worked out for the best, as it was much easier to change platforms at the wrong station than it would have been at Westferry!!
When we got to Embankment it was the busiest that any cheering area had been – but we battled up to where the final Asthma UK purple flags were flying. The app said she wasn’t far (but the app sometimes wasn’t right up to the minute) but clearly it was playing the game, as it wasn’t long before she appeared! Some of the lovely other cheerers had let us get to the front as she was coming – and so we were able to have hugs – and this time pose in a selfie with Charlotte (although I’m taking a photo of her taking the selfie)
The end was in sight (well, not literally, she had to go around a couple of corners and there were some big landmarks in the way) but Charlotte knew that it was only a mile or so to go – and that she’d see her husband and kids again before the end.
So that really felt like our marathon as spectators was over. The atmosphere was still great – but we headed off to where we were all meeting up afterwards. There was a slight issue with us being given incorrect instructions of how to get there by the Asthma UK team – and if I’d run 26.2 miles and then been told this I would not have been impressed – but as we’d hardly done any steps all day, it was actually quite a pleasant walk – and we managed to get some sight seeing landmarks in too!
When we eventually got to the meet and greet, we were told Charlotte was already having a massage. Us five, along with the rest of Charlotte’s family and friends congregated waiting to welcome our conquering hero! Before she arrived we were discussing our various ailments – blisters, tight calves, back ache, sore knee, sunburn, trauma from witnessing the use of a female urinal – honestly, it was tough work being a spectator.
And then she and her medal were there! Clearly there was more weeping by the usual suspects.
We then got to hear a bit about Charlotte’s day (whilst she drank prosecco and ate a plate of food!) She was literally BUZZING with adrenalin (at least I think it was that, and not that she’d become a cheap date with a small plastic glass of fizz!) and wearing her medal with pride.
I am still slightly perturbed that there’s no medal for being a spectator, and am thinking of marketing those – along with spectator’s T-shirts (perhaps detailing what ailments they’ve suffered being a spectator) – at London 2018?!
All in all it was an amazing day. I am pleased that it hasn’t made me want to sign up for a marathon #phew – but I am in awe of everyone who got round that course last Sunday – in fact, anyone who does a marathon at all.
As I said to Charlotte – she might not have won the marathon, but she won her marathon, and I couldn’t be prouder of my little sister.
* As a spectator!