For your average UK runner, the London Marathon is the big one. The piece de resistance. It certainly reigns as one of my most memorable racing experiences. But what makes this race so desired and special?
1) Scarcity – the chances of getting a place at the London marathon ballot are slim, 13.6% to be precise. In 2015 there were 130,000 ballot entries for 17,000 places. Getting a place through the ballot feels like a lottery win. Every October wannabe runners are informed via Mr Postman; either you get a congrats or commiserations magazine. For those unsuccessful in the ballot, the only option to enter is via a charity place. In return for your charity place you’ll be expected to raise in the region of £2,500. So whether it’s through luck or hard work, just getting to the start line at the London marathon feels like an achievement.
2) Crowds – the cliché, but there’s a reason for that, the crowds in London are uh-maze-ing. I write this with 5 city marathons under my belt, from four different countries, nothing has ever compared to the support in London. The course is lined with cheers for the full 26.2 miles and towards the end we’re talking three people deep. London comes out in full force come marathon day. East end pubs blare music, kids stand anxiously waiting for high-fives in return for the sweets they’re handing out and friends and family gather to support their loved ones. I didn’t put my headphones in once at London for fear of missing out on the atmosphere. It’s pretty difficult to describe the role the crowds play in your race day, but it’s a big one. In the years I’ve not run London I’ve spectated at Surrey Quays/mile 8.5 and found it to be just as enjoyable. Londoners – I urge you to join the crowds whether you’re a runner or not. The atmosphere is unlike any other day of the year and you are guaranteed a great experience.
3) Sights – Blackheath and Greenwich Park, the Cutty Sark and Greenwich Maritime, Southwark Park, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Tower of London, Oxo Tower, National Theatre, The Eye, Houses of Parliament, St.James’ park and Buckingham Palace. Enough said.
4) Organisation – Slick. Or sick (if you’re under 25). Started in 1981, at the time of press they’ve had 35 years to hone their race plans. Expo, the start of your marathon adventure, is a shoppers dream and where it really kicks in for the first time. The facilities, the exhibitors and the events at expo are great so leave yourself enough time to enjoy it properly. The start is smooth, crucially there are loads of portaloos and signage is spot on. The finish is crazy but workable. Getting 30,000+ runners around the city is no small feat and the London Marathon team have got it nailed, which believe me, makes your race, about your race, and not the logistics.
5) Recognition – 4.5 million people watch the marathon coverage on the BBC which basically makes you famous. Your work colleagues will try to look out for you on the telly and Monday morning is when you get to relay your race adventures to everyone. Grab your five minutes of fame with both hands, you’re an absolute hero for finishing that race and deserve every compliment… And there will be compliments. Wearing your medal for at least 48hrs post race is totally allowed.