Tens of thousands of spectators. Several Olympic and Paralympic champions. Countless numbers of amateurs running for a multitude of good causes. If there was any trepidation following the tragic events in Boston last weekend, it didn’t show in today’s London Marathon.
Spiralling around some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the 33rd London Marathon brings back memories of the final days of the 2012 Olympic Games. Back then, elite athletes only had to run a 10km lap of the city (several times, of course) but that gave spectators more of a chance to see the world’s best distance runners strut their stuff. Less than a year on, there have been plenty of murmurs about a lack of a ‘legacy’, with sport quickly falling off the agenda. Try telling that to the droves of people, 10-20 deep at Tower Bridge and The Mall, who have turned out to continue the love-in that began last July.
You might have thought that crowds would have been scarce following the explosions at the end of the Boston Marathon. Such a cowardly act can never be truly explained, especially when it directly affects innocent athletes running to raise money for those who perhaps can’t. When it involves family members simply cheering along their loved ones from the sidelines, you simply can’t comprehend such cruelty. So, for thousands to come and raise money in London, particularly those who may have been present in Boston, it’s an amazingly heart-warming tale that says “Sod off, terrorism will never trump charity.”
Audience numbers were almost certainly boosted by the appearance of double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah. The 5000m and 10000m runner was testing his marathon credentials in preparation for the 2014 edition, but attracted plenty of criticism for his decision to run just half of the race. Former winner Paula Radcliffe was perhaps the most vocal, questioning whether or not Farah was doing this just for money and adulation. And? The career of a distance runner is not necessarily a long one and it may be clever to make the most of it while you’re Britain’s biggest athletics star. Perhaps it does distract from the other runners who were determined to win, but what better way to gauge your rivals’ ability in anticipation of next year? As long as he can keep up the pace in a full race, he’ll prove he a real challenge to the Kenyans and Ethiopians.
With most eyes on the Elite Men’s race, you might forget there’s a wheelchair competition as well. David Weir, winner of four medals at London 2012 including the marathon title, was in the mix right until the final stretch. He helped to control the pace on a number of occasions but, when it came to the last kilometre and the race to the finish line, Weir seemed to fall backwards into fifth, two seconds behind winner Kurt Fearnley of Australia. Shelly Woods, Great Britain’s highest finisher in the women’s race, also finished fifth but, with a time 4 minutes and 42 seconds slower than the USA’s Tatyana McFadden, she might not be happy with her performance.
The London Marathon, like many global races, is full of inspirational stories and wondrous performances. Sure, part of the point of a marathon is a purely selfish drive to beat your personal best and push your body to the limits. Alongside that goal is the desire to raise money for your chosen charities, particularly when they mean something personally to you. When else would you get to run side by side with giant inflatable beer bottles, families of determined fundraisers and the hulking figure of blade-runner and Paralympic 200m champion Richard Whitehead? I’m not entirely sure about elderly “runners” in mobility scooters, but it’s all for a good cause. A great cause.
Long may the London Marathon continue, in spite of all that may stand in its way.