This article is the first in our marathon season special in the two week lead up to the London Marathon. Want to keep updated on the latest blog entries ? Simply sign up to follow by email in the ‘Follow’ box on the left and you will be sent the latest articles as soon as they are posted.
It’s that time of year again. You’ve spent weeks building up to it, increasing your long training sessions and making sure you eat properly. You’ve discussed race tactics and pacing as well as transportation and very soon the big day will be here – You are off to Support A Marathon Runner. And this isn’t just any race – oh no my friends – it’s the daddy of all spectator sports – The Virgin London Marathon!
Your runner might think they have the hard task of completing those 26.2 miles – but it is nothing to the day that lies ahead for the spectator*. Unlike your designated runner buddy, you have the task of carrying your own stuff around, supplying your own drinks and fuel and navigating your way around the labyrinth that is London, which is made that little bit harder by the whopping great big race curling through it that you can’t cross.
Do not fear my friends, for every marathon I have run I have spectated far more and so I bring you – The Spectators Guide to The London Marathon. Now with pictures.
* Experiences may vary
1. Fail to prepare then be prepared to fail.
You’ve spent months listening to your runner talk about preparation, what they’re going to wear and what they’re going to eat. It’s no different to you. The weather in London can varying from blazing sun* to torrential apocalyptic rain. Layers are the key and I cannot stress this enough – comfortable shoes. You are going to be spending all day on your feet with the exception of a few glorious minutes when someone gets off at the wrong station on the DLR and temporarily frees up a seat. Heels are a massive no no. I don’t care how many people are likely to be on tinder in the area and might want to meet up – wear comfortable shoes!
* Experiences definitely vary
2. No one really watches the first few miles unless they are really keen
Your runner will be bursting with adrenalin and early race excitement in the first few miles. The crowd of runners is also slightly thicker than the usual stampede later on. Save your energy for the later miles when the runners decide that running a marathon was a stupid idea and you want to be there to say ‘I told you so’. Or offer extra support to keep them going. Whatever. Anything from 7 miles onward will give you a better change of seeing your runner and the support will (probably) be more appreciated.
3. Do not expect your mobile to work
If you are going to meet a bunch of fellow brave spectators taking on the challenge of watching the marathon then pre-arrange a meet up spot. The race is full of other spectators shouting ‘You’re nearly there’ (usually found around mile 10) and it’s difficult to hear a phone call. You can try sending a text if you want your friend to know you’re at The Mall, 6 hours after you were actually there. Having tried this before it’s much easier to pre-arrange your cheering spot.
4. Apps are your friend
If you have a smartphone then you need to download the official tracking app so you can stalk your runner around the course. You will need to know their race number. This will increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time. Also when you get bored you can play “runners bingo” where you and a friend both enter random five digit numbers and virtually race your new running friends (pre-researching elite runner’s numbers is heavily frowned upon). Doing this with the fancy dress rhinos is particularly recommended. Other good apps to have are the London Underground Map and the Trainline – making getting around and finding your way home a little easier.
5. Accept that you might not necessarily see your runner
It helps if you know what your running is going to be wearing (and where they are going to be – see apps above). Given that the marathon will have around 40,000 competitors almost exclusively in ‘black shorts and a coloured vest’ you are in for a hell of an eye test. Watching The London Marathon is hypnotic and the course is wide. If your runner decides to be on the other side of the road to where you are there is a good chance you will miss them. It’s also likely that they won’t be considerate enough to wear this**: Which trust me, stands out. Try to pre-arrange at least one spot so they can lookout for you just as much as you are looking for them. This is also good as a mental incentive (I.e. “Oh I am four miles from my loved one – I better keep moving when they see me so they don’t remind me of what a stupid idea this was”)
6. Maximise your chances of being spotted
There are ways to make yourself easier to spot amongst the hoards of people shouting “Keep going you’re nearly there”. First, if you are standing anywhere under 25 miles do not shout this, don’t give an accurate amount either – no one wants to know they’ve still got 15 miles to go when they’re walking. So how to stand out from the crowd? Make a sign (very useful for being spotted but you will annoy everyone on the tube). Stand somewhere quieter (see below). Be at the front of the railings (not as obvious to some people as your might think).
7. DO NOT go to the Cutty Sark
I tried this once and just remembering it makes me feel a little bit sick. IF, after arriving at 6am you can get to the front, you’ll never get out again. Runners are also so disorientated from the crowds and cobbles that you are unlikely to be seen. I should point out that I personally feel the same about Tower Bridge, although this is a very popular spot. I have a genuine tip for you – get off the DLR at either Mudchute, Cross Harbour (and cross over the road) or Island Gardens and walk towards mile 18. Why? It’s quieter, you can be at the front and most importantly there is an ASDA almost next to it. Do not underestimate the value of cheap drinks and free toilets.
8. Seriously – Do Not go to the Cutty Sark
Experiences never vary.
9. To meet your runner at the end you will get squashed
It is inevitable that at some point you will have to go into Central London to help pick your poor runner off the floor. There’s no way around this unless you insist that they come to you (not recommended). Just grit your teeth and battle the crowds – this is the last leg of your spectating effort! There will also be thousands of runners meeting at the ‘Meet and Greet’ area – all of which will be in such a state that they can’t remember whether they agreed to meet under the letter for their first or second name (even those who’s letter’s are the same). It’s carnage. If you can arrange a meeting spot away from the main area and your runner is still alert enough to navigate themselves there, then you will both be better off. I strongly recommend a pub ready for the last tip in this guide…
10. Treat yourself
Your runner has successfully completed their race and if you’ve followed my guide you should have smashed this spectating malarkey. Now it’s time for the rewards! Your runner is going to want to eat everything in sight and after running 26.2 miles they’re going to be one hell of a lightweight – have a drink for all your hard work and then get your camera phone ready to capture some drunken photographs to use as blackmail next time they want to go for a run instead of doing a chore.
Good luck to all our runners, spectators and marshals from all of us on the Sandhurst Joggers Committee. Especially me, as I spent ages writing this thing.
Nikki “Keep going you’re nearly there” Stanley