by Nelly McEwen
For a non-elite foreigner to participate in the highly popular London Marathon, there are three options: the lottery, a charity or an international tour group. More than 386,000 people tried to enter by lottery; after two unsuccessful attempts, I opted for a tour group.
My friend and I arrived on Monday so I would have a week to acclimate. London was enjoying an unusually warm spell, and my two runs in Hyde Park were a pleasure after training all winter on a treadmill. Our hotel was ideally located near St. James Park so we could walk to many attractions. It only took minutes to walk to the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey. The 360-degree view of London from the open-air sky deck on the 72nd floor of the Shard was spectacular. We saw Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, now in its 66th year, and the musical Aladdin.
The London transportation system is first-rate. One can travel anywhere quickly either by tube, bus or train. It only took one change on the tube to get to the expo to pick up my race number and browse through the exhibits.
At 24 degrees Celsius, Sunday was the hottest London race day on record. Our tour bus took about 45 minutes to reach the start zone in East London where a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed. Visible on a giant video screen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (on the lawn at Windsor Castle) pressed the button to start the marathon.
Three starting routes and several waves for each were designed to alleviate congestion during the first three miles. However, congestion persisted throughout the race. The volume of runners required vigilance, so I never really saw any of the sights along the way. There were many sections of the route where one could only walk.
The fans were fantastic and gave the event a festive atmosphere. The whole city turned out to cheer on the runners, many of whom were raising funds for charity; they dressed in colorful singlets representing their organization. Near the end of the race, the charities had banners along the barricades as well as balloon rainbows. More than 40,000 runners completed the 38th race, making it the biggest in its history.
The heat necessitated extraordinary measures. Extra bottles of water and several shower stations helped runners cool off. Nevertheless, many runners suffered heat exhaustion. Despite consuming lots of water and ‘showering’ at every station, I was still dehydrated at the end. Due to the extreme heat and an unexpected fall, my goal time was off by more than an hour. Despite the disappointment, it is my hardest-earned medal.