The London Marathon: Say My Name

I have never been a spectator at a running event, unless you count our middle school cross-country races where after my run I would then have to wait for my brother in the boys’ version. So, going to this year’s London Marathon was a first to being on the side line at such an event.

First thing’s first: I would always want to be the one running; the person bouncing with excited and nervous energy at the starting line and looking out for familiar and friendly faces along the course. But I decided months ago that I would go to experience the London Marathon as I could – a mere mortal, observer, supporter.

There is something seemingly special about the London Marathon. You don’t have to be a runner, or even a sports fan to realise it. The amount of people running on the streets of the capital last Sunday was over 37,500. Helicopters hover above, showing the instant an elite athlete breaks away from the pack and later, the bobbing masses en route. Journalists jog alongside competitors catching stories; hundreds of photographers line the pavements and bridges to capture moments of joy, agony and achievement in their thousands. There are inspiring stories in abundance.

We headed to mile 24, along Victoria Embankment, just around the corner from the London Eye. It was the perfect weather to be running 26.3 miles: sunny with no wind. I had seen the elite women and men start on television beforehand and we timed it perfectly. At the half way point, leading the women’s race was a pack of about 10. It was incredible to see how they had been spread out in the second half of the race. The winner came past us, striding out and comfortable, minutes ahead of the second place who was minutes ahead of third. It was incredible to see these athletes, so strong and fast after 24 miles. Having experienced a marathon and Cruce this year, I will never stop marvelling at these incredible endurance runners.

After the elite men passed us in much the same vein: very fast from them and sheer awe from us, the next batch of runners arrived. These were runners making good time, who were tired, but oh-so-close to the finish. They needed that last push and we were there to give it to them. We didn’t stop clapping for two and a half hours. I love cheering and did so, whooping at people, urging them on, shaking winning fists at them as they ran, staggered and stumbled past. The ones that got the biggest boosts were those with their names on their shirts. Every name would get a shout-out, and most runners turned towards me with a grateful smile, mouthing the words ‘thank you’ and passing with a newfound spring in their step. It doesn’t matter that you’re a stranger, hearing your name being championed on the streets is such an encouragement. And I meant every word I shouted. I’ve been there. Two miles from the finish it can all become a bit surreal. Having someone say your name brings you back to earth, to the race, to the final push.

When you run the Buenos Aires Marathon, there are some lonely times. At parts of it there are no supporters, no city dwellers would even go there. There are just the water station volunteers doing their best. I ran it with music. But the London Marathon, you don’t need headphones. The beat of the streets, the spectators, drums, inflatable clapping tubes should keep you going even when your legs have had enough. The atmosphere is everyone’s winner.

Earlier I described supporters as mere mortals. I now understand that they are not. There were spectators there who had rushed between points to see loved ones as they passed. There were groups of charity workers and supporters who shouted themselves hoarse like me and were still going when we left. As well as the inspiring stories and successes being played out on the course, so the crowd from south to east to central London played out their own winning formula. Runners en mass had support en mass. And it was great to be a part of that side of it. Did I feel jealous? Of course. But I couldn’t have done my spectator training at a better running event.

There was one sad story to come out of this year’s London Marathon. 30-year-old Claire Squires collapsed a mile from the finish line and later died. She was running in aid of the Samaritans. Prior to starting the race she had raised around £500. The supporting public, on hearing the story, stepped up to the mark and have donated a lot more. Earlier today her fundraising total had reached over £850,000.

The London Marathon is a special race; not just for the running, but also for everything else. Inspirational people and feats; charitable accomplishments and generosity; and those on the side lines who might not run, but are there saying your name and will get you to the line.

If you would like to donate to Claire’s fund for the Samaritans, please click on the link below. JustGiving are waiving their credit and debit card fees in this case.


About Laura Alonso

We run. We travel. And to combine both is a beautiful thing. "Runners just do it. They go for the finish line even though someone else has reached it first."

Posted on April 28, 2012, in Running and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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