London recently saw millions of people drawn to its streets for a once in a lifetime event – the funeral of our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. It was a day of heightened emotion, and the tears flowed for many of us. So it’s somewhat fitting that a mere couple of weeks later, the same streets of our capital city will see another spectacular and – for many – once in a lifetime event.
This time, for most, it will be tears of happiness, relief and joy that flow on the day, as nearly 50,000 humans run, jog, whee, and stumble their way around the historic marathon course. This weekend is the world-famous road race, the London Marathon. And, just to be clear, the London Marathon is the very best marathon on planet Earth.
If you’ve never wobbled precariously on a pavement edge, desperately craning your neck in the hope of catching a three-second glimpse of a close (or often distant) relative, friend or colleague, then you won’t understand what I mean. Because this is the thing about the London Marathon, and one of the key reasons why it’s the greatest marathon: you don’t actually have to do any running to be swept up in the emotion of it all.
You can stand and watch the runners streaming past for hours, each with their own very personal story as to why they decided to enter it. Some will run to say they’ve done it and ticked the experience off their bucket list, some to raise eye-watering amounts of money for causes close to their hearts.
Yes, running it is something else entirely. Ask anyone who’s done it and you’ll get the same responses: “It was one of the best days of my life” or “I’ll never forget it” or “the supporters got me round”. Admittedly, some people have a godawful experience, be it injury, tummy trouble, blisters or cramp. But ask them a few days post-event, and you’ll get much the same response as those who had a great race.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
And while the atmosphere is spine-tingling for almost the entire 26.2 miles, if you had to push me on it, then there’s one moment you absolutely never forget – crossing Tower Bridge at the halfway point. Following in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of runners as you look up at the iconic white and blue steel girders, a lump quickly rises in the throat.
I never realised it was possible to cry and run simultaneously until that moment. Turns out, you can.
I’m not running it this year. I entered the ballot (as I have done religiously for the past 12 years), but failed to win a place. But I’ll watch it, as I always do, from the comfort of my sofa – right from the second the starting hooter sets off the elite wheelchair race at some ungodly hour on Sunday morning. I’ll keep watching as I serve up the Sunday roast to a backdrop of rhinos (no marathon would be complete without them), knights in armour, pantomime horses and men on stilts cross the finish line.
The London Marathon truly is the greatest show on earth.