Today we went down to watch the London Marathon. One of Cathy’s colleagues, Pam, was running in it and it was a nice day so why not head down to lend some support?
I’ve never run a marathon and I’ve never actually watched a long-distance race. I’ve run a 10K before, though, and while that’s not really in the same league as a marathon, I have at least an inkling of what it must feel like to run 26 miles.
We walked down to the City and met the marathon route just where Dowgate Hill meets Upper Thames Street, south of Cannon Street. Quite quickly I settled into the routine of the well-wisher, shouting encouraging things at the people who ran by. You could add a personal touch by shouting their names as well, because most marathon runners have their names on their vests.
Before running the 10K last year I would never have done that. I’d have thought people wanted their privacy, that they just wanted to get on with the run without the whoops and shouts of strangers. But I was proved wrong – despite being a pretty antisocial and introspective person, I found the encouragement of the crowd genuinely heartwarming and motivating, so I was determined to try to give some of that encouragement back today.
Watching people run the marathon, I felt a kind of laziness. Why was I not running it? After doing the 10K last year I could have kept on training and might have been ready for this by now if I’d worked hard enough. So that was a pretty humbling feeling. I was almost envious of the runners.
But at the same time I can’t deny that I felt glad I wasn’t running. I mean, you know – your rational mind can figure it out – that running 26 miles is going to be gruelling. But when you see the faces of normal people who are in the process of doing it, you get a clearer sense of just how hard it is. We even had a few people stop next to us and nearly collapse (but they all kept running in the end!). At those times I was glad that I was on the “civilian” side of the banner.
The marathon represents something quite rare in British society in that it seems morally unambiguous. Almost everyone is running for charity, no-one can sneer at the enormity of the task, and the whole structure of class and privilege seems to have no place amidst the sea of runners. You see the odd person waving an England flag but all in all you don’t get the sense of this being about nations competing: it’s about human achievement plain and simple. Maybe I’ll try to do a marathon next year after all.