Updated: Apr 18
London Marathon day is so special, and so hard to describe if it’s something you’ve never experienced. It’s as if the entire city comes out to support the runners, lining the sides of the street so deep in some places that the course just becomes a tunnel of noise. Even if you’re not running, there is no way that you can’t get caught up in the atmosphere – it’s like magic. At first, you’re in complete awe of the elite runners who pass by as if they’re floating on air, several long minutes before the fast club runners make an appearance. As the relative speeds of the runners begin to slow, you can’t help but to be impressed at the sheer power of will. The pain starts to show more and more on their faces, some may be limping, some may be walking, there may be bloody noses and tears…but they are all gritting their teeth and pushing through it, even though their bodies are screaming out to stop. You want to help them, but there’s nothing you can do but scream your head off for them, to encourage those who look broken, to just give your all on the side lines while they give their all in the race. As a spectator, you feel drained and inspired and just so damn passionate about running. If you live in London and have never spectated the marathon, just go one year – even if you don’t know anyone running it. It truly is indescribable…
In true City Runners fashion, we were out en masse on the day, with cheer points at Miles 12 and 23. Walking to Mile 12 around 9:30 in the morning, it became clear that it was going to be HOT. Just standing outside had us sweating, so we were definitely concerned for all of the runners taking part. Considering that we were still having snowstorms in March, running a marathon in 23C was going to be tough.
The best thing we could offer as spectators was unwavering support, and Ivana (AKA the most excited person you will ever meet) made sure that our Mile 12 cheer point was unapologetically City Runners – blue and gold bunting and balloons, the giant club feather flag…unable to contain her enthusiasm for the day, there were also homemade snacks for the spectators and custom signs to cheer on our runners. Heather also had an amazing City Runners banner printed that we strung up – just in case it wasn’t entirely obvious who we were!
Evidence of Ivana’s enthusiasm
With our decorating done and Ivana’s enthusiasm infecting everyone around her, the magic of marathon day started to build. Soon the wheelchair and para-athletes were beginning to pass by, followed by the elite women shortly afterwards. I was amazed at just how tiny some of the women are! Apparently Mary Keitany, the winner of the 2017 London Marathon, is only 5’2” and 93 lbs (42 kg)!
By the time the elite men were set to approach, the excitement was palpable. We couldn’t wait to see our hometown hero, Sir Mo Farah and when he finally appeared, the crowds just erupted with noise! You almost had to feel bad for all of the other elite men in the presence of all the cheers for Mo. They were there and then they were gone in a flash…I don’t even think I could run 400 meters at the pace which these guys run 26.2 miles – it’s mind boggling when you actually think about it!
Early arrivals to our mile 23 cheer point
But the true attraction was our very own runners. The London Marathon has a really useful app where you can track up to 10 runners to see where they are on the course, so we were all refreshing it constantly in between cheering. We knew Farid (our speed demon) was due to come by at any point. As soon as we saw him, we went absolutely nuts – everyone around us had to stop and look why we were screaming like crazy people! Of course Farid was just hamming it up, soaking in all our cheers and zooming off once he high-fived us all.
It then was just a game of checking the app to see where our runners were, cheering for anyone’s non-City Runners friend running past and desperately hoping we didn’t miss anyone! Sadly, it was just so busy at some points that I know we did miss people (pro tip for runners: know where your spectators will be, so you can run up to them – it will be much easier for you to spot them than the other way around!). We never would have seen Mel or Tim if they hadn’t run right past us!
I think we did manage to see most people in the end, which was fantastic. Shortly after the really quick people had raced past, Ivana revealed her two gifts to the runners: a kilo of jelly babies and two spray bottles!
One thing you can say about marathon runners is that they’re a grateful bunch. Even in the middle of running 26 miles, pretty much everyone said ‘thank you’ for the jelly babies or the spray of water. Lots of ‘I love you’s were shouted, Ivana was called ‘an angel’ on multiple occasions, and I even got a massively sweaty hug while manning one of the spray bottles! I was really touched that they all spared some of their scant energy to express how thankful they were that we were out on the course to help them out.
We stayed on the course until the sweeper vans started to pass us by, and so many people were still walking, even though the vans had passed them a long time ago. You had to admire them for pushing on when the pain was evident on their faces, and we tried our best to encourage them for as long as we could.
Overall, it was a successful day spectating and while we were exhausted from standing out in the sun all day, we couldn’t wait to head back to the Marquis and greet all of our amazing runners. I left the marathon course feeling inspired, so you know what I’ll be doing on Monday, 30 April…putting my name in that 2019 London Marathon ballot!
Some of our superstar runners and cheer squad at the after party
While it was an incredible day for many, unfortunately the running community lost one of their own on Sunday. Matt Campbell, a professional chef from the Lake District, a successful MasterChef UK contestant, and sub-3 hour marathon runner collapsed at mile 22.5 and tragically passed away. He was running for charity in memory of his late father. Runners all across the UK are pledging to finish the last 3.7 miles for Matt and to make a donation to his charity. Organized by one of our members, Raj, City Runners will be meeting at 10:30 am on Saturday, outside of the Starbucks near Tower of London, to finish Matt’s run. Please consider making a donation to Matt’s charity, the Brathay Trust, which helps vulnerable young people: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mattcampbell-londonmarathon
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natascha abandoned sunny California for London in October 2016 and has been a proud member of City Runners ever since. She loves a good 10K, but enjoys signing up for marathons so she can eat whatever she wants. Therefore, she is very much looking forward to running the Berlin Marathon this year (and hopefully snagging a new PB along the way!).