The Greatest Show in Town: VMLM
Runners - more than 40,000 of them - will reclaim the capital’s streets for the 38th time on 22 April. They’ll be in various states of readiness to tackle what the London Marathon’s co-founder, the late Chris Brasher, dubbed the ‘suburban Everest’.
The Virgin Money London Marathon, as it has been snappily titled since 2010, is on many a runner’s bucket list, and with good reason. There aren’t any other events in London’s busy calendar that has elite athletes rubbing shoulders with fancy dress fun runners and tubby politicians in their PE kits, stopping the traffic on a 26.2-mile route, from Blackheath to The Mall, and inspiring a whole new wave of exercise refuseniks to buy trainers into the bargain.
Best of all, marathon day, every year, engenders a huge collective outburst of civic pride. A bit like the Olympics did, but you don’t need to buy tickets to be a part of it.
All of which gives us an excellent reason to list 10 oddly fascinating sights to look out for on Marathon day, whether you’re running it and need distraction from your pain, or watching it and fearing you missed the loved one whom you’re supposed to be plying with Haribo.
The thin blue line
Late at night, the busy marathon elves are out painting a broken blue line on the marathon route. Runners in the know stick to this line, because it marks out the shortest possible way through the course; drifting from it too much could mean you run more than 26.2 miles. And we wouldn’t want that.
A running tap (or camel!)
Running for charity and dressing up in a strangely cumbersome costume takes a special kind of person, and the charity WaterAid has a knack of attracting them. You can don their special lavatory costume (featuring false legs akimbo), or the tap regalia, at no extra cost, or find a friend and get up close and personal in the Humphrey Camel costume...then try to run. The fastest toilet so far has finished the marathon in a slightly flushed 2hrs:56mins.
The rhino (and other wildlife)
(photo by Annie Mole)
Dressing up is a big part of the London Marathon, and many animal charities make the most of this by coaxing their runners into animal costumes. One of the most challenging, but best beloved, animal outfits is the hefty rig loaned out to charity runners by Save the Rhino. The instantly recognisable rhino costume dates back to 1989: designed by Gerald Scarfe for a production of Ionescu’s absurdist play, Rhinoceros. The design was updated in 2011 to make them easier to run in. They’re now hung on a slightly more comfortable rucksack frame, with the fake rhino skin panels made of breathable fabric. Several rhinos run each marathon day (there are 17 costumes in all) so you should be able to spot at least one on 22 April. Wearing one adds at least an hour to a runner’s time.
The same cannot be said for the costume worn by WWF’s Team Panda marathon runner Laurence Morgan, who managed 3:16 in a slightly lighter full-body giraffe costume in last year’s London Marathon. He did look a bit hot and sweaty at the end, though.
They appear in the sky over Blackheath on marathon day and get the party started. A blimp is a non-rigid airship that signals to the runners where to gather to enter the many start pens. The red blimp hovers above red start, where charity, fancy dress and fun runners line up. Club runners and elites gather in their blue start under their blimp and green starters (Good for Age and celebrities) head for the relevant blimp zone. Red start runners join the green and blue starters about three miles into the race.
One of the biggest advantages of not running anything like an elite pace in the London Marathon is that you have the time to distract yourself with the posters and banners people are waving around for their beloved runner. From ‘ TOENAILS ARE OVERRATED’ to ‘RUN FASTER...THE KENYANS ARE DRINKING ALL THE BEER’ the wit will keep you snickering all the way round the marathon (see what we did there? Only if you were born before 1985, probably).
All the angst that goes into what trainers to wear, whether to buy new ones, whether you need extra stability, or orthotics, or huge bouncy soles...then you spot what some wisecrackers have on their feet. Casual runners in frayed shorts and flip-flops, mad runners going barefoot, or in just socks, or the wellington boot man: Damian Thacker, who managed 3:21 in his farmyard footwear.
White goods in wrong places
We first saw a man running with a fridge on his back in 2010. The fastest white good-toting marathoner at London, however was Ben Blowes, who strapped on a tumble drier and made it to the finish in 5:58:37.
You will have to leave the busy streets of London to see this attraction. Her Majesty will be starting the Virgin Money London Marathon, but she won’t be wearing Lycra, or rubbing shoulders with an over-excited Colin Jackson. Her gloved hand will be pressing the start button from her vantage point in front of the Round Tower in the grounds of Windsor Castle at 10am on 22 April. Her granny, Princess Mary, started the Olympic marathon from Windsor Castle 110 years ago. Runners will set off at her royal command, anxiously examining their watches to see if they can get to the finish point in front of her other house, Buckingham Palace, inside five hours.
Wonder Woman (and other superheroes)
In 2017 Rebecca Cesar de Sa was the fastest woman in a film character costume, sashaying in at a very resectable 3:16:19 in the guise of Wonder Woman. But you’ve got to hand it to Alice Gerlach, who had to run in a Banana Man costume - far more awkward - and clocked 4:13:39. The superheroes join other mortals at the Red Start, inside Greenwich Park and parade about before the off, so spectators gather there around 9am to be part of the fun.
The oldest runners in town
Every year the media scans the thousands of starters in search of the most venerable athlete hoping to get round the 26.2 miles. This is fraught with danger, as journalists may approach an indignant 60-year-old who still believes he’s a spring chicken and does not want to be patronised. Last year, it was easy, because the oldest finisher was already a bit of a celeb, and everyone knew his age. Kenneth Jones, aged 83, finished the race in 6.41, the most senior of the 11 The Ever Presents left competing to date. The Ever Presents are the group of men who have competed in every London Marathon since it started in 1981. There are no women. There used to be 42, but some have died, others have just hung up their trainers. The swiftest by far is Chris Finill, 57, who has run every one of the 38 London Marathons in under three hours. Legend.
Good luck to everyone running the VMLM this year!