Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Feeling fit?

As you may have gathered, there's a theme developing in the titles of this blog. After championing food, beer and books, it's about time for some exercise. Or, at least, writing about it.

The 28th London Marathon took place last week-end, and OK, it's not quite West London, although the finishing line is at least in SW1. It's actually (oddly) easy to overlook in West London as, unlike the East End, we don't experience the road closures and crowds. But we shouldn't: after all, with over 34,000 runners and over a million spectators, it is one of the largest global sporting events in the world.

It all started in the late 70s, when the former Olympic champion Chris Brasher, having run the 1979 New York marathon, mused whether such an event would be possible in London. Two years later, the first marathon took place, with over 6,000 finishing the route. Now, over 80,000 apply in the annual ballot for places, and its profile has grown along with the crowds of spectators.

As well as a sporting event, it has also become a sort of 26-mile long street party, with spectators taking advantage of both refreshment and entertainment along the route: some just have cup of tea, others a beer and full Sunday Pub Lunch, as some 60 bands have been booked by the 80 or so pubs that line the route. (Peculiarly British this - there’s even an official beer sponsor!) Even churches along the route get in on the act, although their offerings (on a Sunday, too) are generally less alcoholic.

The party mood is enhanced by the ever increasing number of runners who decide to run wearing fancy dress: lots of animals, cartoon characters, the odd Star Wars Stormtrooper, some in real Army Combat kit, and this year a group of real Masai warriors, who ran equipped with their spears (with special dispensation). Having never achieved more than a half-marathon, I can’t comment on what it must feel like, but I am hugely impressed by those who train so hard throughout the winter to run, and even more so with those who run in heavy, stuffy costumes.

Of the course the weather is one of those things that just cannot be relied on, especially as April can bring warm and humid summer weather temperatures, or as in this year a frost the night before, thunderstorms, showers…you name it.

Since 2006, London has become one of the World Marathon Majors, a series established by the collaboration of the marathons in London, Chicago, Boston, New York and Berlin, offering a major prize but also raising money of charity. The charity theme has indeed become a major feature of the London event, with many charities allocated places in the marathon from the organisers. Over £360m has been raised over the years, with over £46.5m raised in 2008. Sponsorship has equally become important, with Flora (margarine) now becoming a familiar name associated with the event.

For anyone interested in the Marathon, either competing, sponsoring, or just going along to watch - there is loads of really good information and advice on their web-site.

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