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Jackie Kent shares what its like to welcome London Marathon runners over the finish line

Having run the London marathon for two years running, I decided not to apply for 2018. Instead, I chose to volunteer to marshal. I previously marshalled in 2015 and loved every minute of it so I was very keen to have another go. I replied to Ian’s email as soon as I saw it and spent the next few weeks anxiously waiting to see if I had been chosen as there were more volunteers than spaces available. Eventually the email arrived and to my delight I not only had a place, I also had the job that I wanted! As the last few weeks passed I became more and more excited. We had our briefing, got our kit and finally it all felt real!

Jackie briefing.jpg

I spent the rest of the week annoying all my work colleagues with my childish excitement until finally I was setting my alarm and failing to get an early night. At 5am after 3 hours sleep, my alarm sounded and I dragged myself out of bed. I had prepared everything the night before so at 5:45am I left home and drove to Farnborough station to meet up with all the other marshals. At 6:45am we were on our way to London and eating breakfast on the way!

We arrived in good time, went through security and found our way to the finish area.

media centre

We were briefed again and got ourselves ready to start. We had time for a look around and to take a few photos before the racing began.

The first races were the kids ‘mini marathon’ races, all different age groups and including wheelchairs and a para-athletes category. This is a 5k race and some of those kids finished in incredible times!! The temperature was already beginning to soar and we had quite a few kids to catch and escort through as they put everything into their running and crossed the line ready to collapse.

After the kids races we had time for a short lunch break. It was only 10am but this would be the only break in a very long day so we sat in the sun and ate our sandwiches.

Marshal lunch.jpg

During our break the wheelchair racers began crossing the line. We weren’t needed to marshal this so I headed out to watch. However on my way I was asked to relieve another marshal so that she could have lunch, so I spent the next hour directing wheelchair racers to their finish area. At this point the baggage lorries started to arrive so the task became one of ensuring that no exhausted athletes lost concentration and ended up under the wheels of a lorry as they crossed the road! I also took great pains to keep out of shot of the Sky news reporter as she did her ‘piece to camera’.

After this I moved down to the finish line in time to see the men’s elite runners cross the line. However we didn’t see a lot as we were corralled back behind the press, unlike previous years when we were able to stand up with the press.

Then the real work began. The super speedy club runners started to arrive and we moved into our positions for the rest of the race. My job was to be a hustler. We were just behind the finish line to keep runners moving as they crossed the line. Instinctively, most people want to stop as they cross the line, but at peak times we had approx 300 runners per minute coming through so we couldn’t allow them to stop or they would cause a pile up! Some however had put so much into their final sprint that they simply collapsed over the line. Our job was also to spot the potential collapsers and either keep them moving through to the medal hangers by which time they generally felt better, or to hand them over to medics if appropriate. Due to the high temperatures of over 25 degrees C there were higher than usual numbers of collapsing runners and plenty of people were carried away on stretchers. The vast majority of those were fine after a rest and some water.

As time progressed more and more charity and fancy dress runners started to cross the line. I was lucky to see some of my fellow Sandhurst Joggers and my good friend Kerry who I had missed the last time that I marshaled.

The runners continued to come thick and fast and time passed very quickly. I was loving every minute, despite the blood, sweat, vomit and tears that we found ourselves dealing with.

I was lucky at this point to see a group of firefighters who had run in their kit to raise money for various charities. They were the first crew to arrive at the scene of the Grenfell fire and had decided to run in memory of those who died and to raise money for the survivors fund.

Soon enough the flow of runners started to slow. I had volunteered to stay late so at about 5pm I took the opportunity for a quick loo break and to grab a currant bun before the majority of the marshals went to get the coach home.

As we moved into the late finish part of the day I was moved to the approach. I was now on the other side of the finish line, welcoming runners and still watching for potential collapsers. We also had to redirect spectators who had jumped the barriers to run the final stretch with their loved ones but who weren’t allowed to cross the finish line into the secured area. Here I saw the oldest runner of the day at 87 years old, along with more fancy dress runners and plenty of charity runners. People at this point had been running and walking for 7-8 hours.

Now the approach lanes had been reduced from three to one and the finish was being taken down around us. The road had to be reopened by a certain time so the remaining runners were directed to a footpath alongside the Mall to a separate finish line. I moved across too and started directing runners to the new finish.

manual finish

As the course continued to be taken down the electric timing was switched off and we moved to manual timing. With only about 5 known runners left on the course I finally was no longer needed and at about 8:15pm I left the Mall and headed to the tube station. As I looked back, the Mall was in process of being returned to a normal road and all evidence of the marathon was being cleared away for another year.

pack up

A tube, train and car journey later and I finally made it home at 10:02pm, exhausted but still buzzing with excitement. Too tired to cook I finished my pack of currant buns and had a bag of liquorice all sorts for dinner.

All in all I had an amazing day and hope to be able to do it again in the future.

And one of my highlights? Getting on TV talking to a lobster…

Jackie lobster.jpg








One comment on “Jackie Kent shares what its like to welcome London Marathon runners over the finish line

  1. Excellent article – really enjoyed readint it


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