On paper, no one should enjoy a marathon.
It’s not so much the whole running for 26 miles stuff that bothers me – I mean, they’re your knees, do what you want – and more the fact that most marathons take place on a Sunday. Which, if I need to remind you, is a designated day of rest.
And as for standing around watching it, we can all probably concede that – again, on paper – the London Marathon should fall into the same category as other events that involve negotiating busy tubes, metal barriers, large crowds of slow moving people, loud cheering, intermittent horn blasts and clacking noises, road closures, medium to mild inconvenience, processions, prize givings, podiums, ceremonies, the switching on (or off) of lights, temporary seating and stages, Sir Paul McCartney, pyrotechnics set to music, and a BBC film crew.
In other words, the Marathon should be like all the other occasions that make Londoners go a bit “oh, not all this again” (unless, of course, they’re getting a day off work).
But for some reason, it’s not.
My attendance at the London Marathon started about four years ago.
This was around the time that my friends began taking on grueling life challenges for absolutely no reason at all. The usual charity “fun” (lol) runs, an uptake in gym memberships, long distance bike rides – escalating, worryingly, to the odd, casual 10k.
It wasn’t long before they were climbing mountains on holiday, and choosing to tackle barbed wire-filled obstacle courses instead of going to the pub, until there was no hill left to scale and they were left with the London Marathon.
At which point, as a non-runner, it’d be easy to feel a bit inadequate.
But luckily I realised there was still a place for me at these events, because clearly what these friends really needed was someone cheering from the sidelines, offering them bits of Monster Munch and sips of G&T.
The London Marathon is now one of my favourite things to go and watch each year. So even if your mates aren’t mad enough to sign up for it, here’s why you should go down.
1. You can be outside all day for free
It’s deceptively hard to find things to do outdoors in London during springtime without a) sitting in a park feeling a bit chilly or b) going to the pub. But watching the Marathon is free, and outdoors, and if you jump up and down occasionally that counts as exercise, which makes for much better ‘what did you get up to’ small talk in the work kitchen on Monday compared to your usual ‘yeah, good thanks, mostly just laid about watching Netflix’.
2. Spotting the most ridiculous running outfits will become your favourite form of entertainment
Hold tight the man who runs with a fridge on his back. Shout out to barefoot Jesus Christ with a cross. Big up the dinosaur onesie gang. You are all, without exception, completely mental.
3. It makes you feel like you’ve done a v. good deed
When you watch the London Marathon you earn back all the karma points you lose every time you pretend to be on the phone or yell ‘Sorry! Can’t stop! On my way to a meeting!’ or ‘I already give to charity, mate!’ at the Save The Children cagoule-clad clipboard person trying to harpoon you on your way to Pret. You might think you’re just there for your mates, but actually you’re supporting about 40,000 good causes at once. In a way, you’re basically giving to charity just by standing there. So yeah, clipboard man. Beat that.
4. There’s are ample opportunities for a nutritious picnic lunch
Cheering people on is pretty exhausting. I recommend the Official Supporters’ Lunch; a high energy, low cost meal consisting of 3 – 4 M&S gin-in-a-tins, a packet of salt and vinegar Hula Hoops and a Cadbury’s Caramel, all of which are available from the local convenience store next to Shadwell tube. Keep those energy levels up, you’ve got a long day ahead.
5. You get weirdly obsessed with tracking your mates on GPS
There’s something quite cathartic about seeing your friend’s biggest life achievement reduced to a small, human shaped icon moving around a map of London on your phone. This digital human scalextric is literally your only way of finding out where they are. It is your guide, your saviour, and literally the only chance you have of actually spotting your exhausted runner friend. It will also drain your battery, so bring a charger.
6. You don’t even have to go to all the really busy bits
If you want to stand a chance of spotting someone, don’t bother with Greenwich or the Mall. Instead, have a couple of extra hours in bed (you deserve it, you’re about to do the London Marathon!) and get yourself over to Shadwell. The crowds are a bit less crowdy, you’ll see the runners at mile 13 as they head east, then you can chill, do some cheering, drink your gin, and be ready to catch them again on the other side of the road post-Isle of Dogs at mile 23. They’ll be knackered, but you’ll be lightly drunk, pumped up on sugar, slightly red from the sun, and ready to offer those yells of encouragement they will, by that point, most definitely need.
7. You will cry at least eight times
Even if you’re not feeling particularly delicate, trust me. All it takes is one glimpse of a man with “running for mum” on his Cancer Research vest and you’ll be howling.
8. All marathon runners become extremely attractive
You’d think that the combination of breaking pain barriers, bleeding nips, blistered feet, hobbling gaits and sweaty faces would be the least hot thing ever. But happily, the opposite is true. If there’s one thing running a marathon does, it’s raise your sex appeal by 45.6%. Spectators: prepare to fall in love at least 300 times.
9. You will make friends* with the group of people next to you
The London Marathon puts everyone in a good mood. And everyone knows when Londoners are in a good mood and buoyed by just the right amount of gin and cheering, they want to chat. You will start talking to the people next to you, and you will help them find their dad / daughter / sister / mate on the marathon tracker app when their iPhone battery dies, and they will pass on their noise maker of choice when they leave for the day. On this day of endurance – standing up for five hours is no small task, guys – marathon supporter comradery is strong.
*It’s alright, you won’t have to see them again or anything.
10. You’ll have an excuse to get a taxi home afterwards
Allow a friend who just ran 26.8 miles to get the 341 bus back home? Not on my watch. You’re all getting a taxi, and that’s the end of it.
This year’s Virgin London Marathon is on Sunday 23rd April. If you’re running, good luck. And if you’re watching, have a bath ready for when you get home. You’ll be exhausted.