London Marathon 2022: I enjoyed every minute thanks to the crowd

I'm celebrating 26.2 miles with my sister Caroline

Celebrating 26.2 miles with my sister Caroline, right (Image: Katherine Fidler)

I ran my first marathon yesterday. And I loved it.

why did i love it Was it the almost five hours of continuous running (very slowly)? Feeling like my quads are turning to rocks with every mile that goes by? Or maybe swallow the famously delicious energy gels to keep going?

no I loved it because every single person lined the course and cheered for all of us.

I’ve been on the sidelines before, clapping by the thousands as the runners whiz by in varying states of ecstasy and agony. Some thrive and pass, others look like they’re seriously reconsidering all the life choices that got them to this point.

There are photos of me in both states now, and what I didn’t quite get before was wherever you’re emotional (and it’s a rollercoaster), the crowd will carry you through.

On the day of the 2021 London Marathon, I decided to run this year and also essentially committed to raising a small fortune for charity as there are so few voting spots available. I soon after forced my sister Caroline to join me and on March 29th we both got spots on Age UK. The journey had begun.

Fast forward through training – plagued by small, tricky injuries that took the most of the fun out of it – and on Sunday 2nd October, Caroline and I emerged from DLR at 8:30am and joined the flood of runners and supporters pouring into Greenwich Park, the air thick with nerves and deep heat.

Some early morning encouragement from TfL - thanks!

Some early morning encouragement from TfL – thanks! (Image: Katherine Fidler)

Unfortunately, an admin error resulted in Caroline and I being assigned different starts, making it a bit more difficult to finish the race together.

However, from the second I crossed my 10:50 start (by which time the pros had more than halfway through) until we met, I was never alone.

Grandstands full of supporters turned to crowds on the moors as we started our journey completely wrong, with the London skyline behind us and the road to Kent ahead. Heath turned into homes before its residents stood, sacrificing a precious Sunday morning to lift tens of thousands of strangers in the first 26 miles.

Big sister dropping me off at my start

Big sister dropping me off at my start (Image: Katherine Fidler)

The route leading up to Greenwich is rarely touted as a vintage stage of the race, and having completed major half marathons with quieter sections like the Great North Run and Big Half, I expected some magic without the crowds outside the gates.

How wrong I was

Never mind that Woolwich Road isn’t blessed with iconic locations that let the BBC cameras beam around the world. Families, friends, partners and local residents still lined the course – maybe not five deep and even with a few breaks between groups, but they were still there, setting our course. An early appearance from a former colleague was an added bonus, a familiar face in the cheering crowd.

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And when the Cutty Sark comes, six miles down, 20 to go, it’ll go up a few gears. Crowded against the barriers as if they were the front row at a festival, adults and children hooted and cheered, shouted names, rang cowbells and clapped bouncy castles.

At this point Caroline and I were overconfident and absolutely driving around – we too should have been less than a quarter of the race under our belts. The crowd gave us atmosphere, excitement, a sense of being part of something big.

From Greenwich to Tower Bridge, the half-time mark, is my territory. I knew the route inside and out – where the road was steep, where it narrowed, and that most of the time it was very easy uphill.

It turns out you don’t notice when you’re being cheered on all the time, and can distract yourself with the myriad signs along the way, from “I believe in you random stranger” to “Way to show the government how to do things”. ‘. There have been many iterations of this.

And my place. Let’s just say I know where I’m going to spend the next day of the marathon, hitting the streets with a drink and dancing as the runners stream by. What a mood.

Canary Wharf is another stop preferred by few. Again, I knew the route too well, having previously lived on the Isle of Dogs, and never before had that little bend in the river felt so long.

And yet they were there, the masses. Hands holding up mugs of jelly beans and wine gums – or in one case cheese and grapes – a classy touch. Signs for friends, family and loved ones and signs for strangers. Rows of children giving high fives in passing – Covid showed no signs of dampening this age-old tradition.

1.2 miles to go

The last mile would have felt much longer without our fabulous supporters (Image: Katherine Fidler)

On our way out of the shipyard, the crowd thinned out a bit, but was massively boosted by the surprising appearance of another former colleague.

At this point I had missed two friends in the crowd as I passed – disappointing for all of us as a familiar face gives an extra boost and it’s not an easy task to fight off the crowd and get right to the spot that you might have told a runner. Indeed, being on a cheer team can be hard work — and I got a chuckle walking past a woman on the 18th mile as I struggled a bit, lamenting how tiring the day was .

I can feel her pain because while she cheered for hours, I ran for almost as long. But I will be eternally grateful because it just wouldn’t have been the same without her and the hundreds of thousands of others celebrating our big day.

Katherine almost to the finish line of the London Marathon

Almost there! (Image: Katherine Fidler)

Katherine crosses the finish line

Crossing the finish line (Image: BBC)

Of course running with my sister made the event extra special and my friend deserves his own medal for cycling about 26.3 miles to cheer us on in more places than I can remember.

But there’s no doubt that that steady burst of energy from the sidelines, propelling us and pulling us forward, distracting us from the pain and making us feel like absolute rock stars, made the – let’s face it – an unnatural one long, painful drudgery is one of the most beautiful and memorable days of my life.

So thank you to every single person who sacrificed their day to make ours.

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Justin Scacco

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