Despite the devastating occurrences in Boston, British runners were not deterred from participating in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon
My marathon journey started in November last year. I received a text asking if I was willing to participate in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon for charity. My natural reaction, coupled with the fact that I was half asleep on a train, was an immediate “no, you must be joking”. I reached home to find my flatmate had received the same text and had actually said yes. Fool. Nutter. Madman. These words were understandably running through my head, and admittedly coming out of my mouth when he asked if I had said yes.The end of April saw an entire city of Boston brought to a standstill. Across the Atlantic, London paid homage in emphatic fashion to those who lost their lives just a week earlier. Half a million people lined the streets of the British capital on a glorious day to show solidarity and support to those running, and undoubtedly to show the world that what happened in Boston would not dampen the spirit of the marathon and human good-will.
However, within 5 minutes I was convinced about taking part. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Most people wait years to get on the London marathon, if at all. Yet here I was being offered a place to run one of the greatest races in the world for a worthy cause coupled with the chance to get in some shape, admittedly. Inevitably I received a mixed reaction upon telling others, ranging from the awkward laugh to the hysterical laugh. “Do you know how much you’ll have to train?”, “You do realise it’s 42km?” “Can you even run?” An emphatic Yes would be my answer to all of the above.
And with that, the training commenced…
Gruelling as it was, being a beginner to road running, it took a while to get past a few kilometres at a time but thanks to the Nike iPhone running app and a new-found sense of discipline the miles were under my belt, albeit in sub-zero conditions most of the time. Having managed to avoid any injury, I was content with my training for the few weeks running up to the big day.
Then Boston happened. 3 people lost their lives and hundreds were injured in what can only be described as a heinous attack on civilian life. For people to be attacked whilst supporting and cheering on their loved ones and fellow citizens, one can only look back in horror and disbelief.
We are all aware of the subsequent lockdown and manhunt that resulted in two brothers being held responsible. However the shockwaves were not only felt in Boston. Across the world, people watched in horror as pictures and reports streamed out of the chaos near the finish line. One of the world’s great races had been reduced to a wreck and the effect of this definitely had some— including me— questioning whether the London race would actually be held only a week later.
Looking back, I don’t think the thought of pulling out ever came across my mind. I am sure I echo the thoughts of the 36000 other marathoners who lined the streets of Blackheath, Greenwich on Sunday morning when I say that the Boston attacks were in our hearts, firing us up to complete the arduous challenge and rise to the occasion to show the world the true marathon spirit. Adorning black ribbons, a 30 second silence before the starting whistle was observed and standing in a sea of people from all walks of life, one could hear a pin drop.
The run itself was tough, as expected. My aim of running the distance without stopping was only possible because of the unwavering support of the British public, who truly astonished me. The entire stretch of the course was lined with people, cheering, offering drinks and creating a truly remarkable atmosphere. It was London at its finest.
26.2 miles and close to 4 hours of running through an unusually warm day, I approached the finish line outside Buckingham palace exhausted. As I took in the roar of the crowd one last time, the thought of Boston passed through my mind. I saw a young child waving at me from the mall, one of hundreds. He stuck out his hand and gave me a hi-5 as I ran passed. 7 days earlier an eight year old boy had died whilst supporting his own father on the finishing stretch. One can only sympathise with those who lost their lives so callously.
Undoubtedly next year’s Boston marathon will be an emotional occasion. However, the future of marathons is secure. I do not foresee any shortfall of people participating or attending such fantastic events. If anything, London showed that the spirit of the marathon, all the hard work and fundraising that goes with it, will only flourish in the face of adversity. It truly is human good will at its finest, sacrificing serious physical and emotional pain to help others.
As Steve Cram, a former British athlete, aptly put it at the start of this year’s marathon; “If you’re going to mess with a people’s spirit, marathoners are not the one.”
Photo Credits: Wasim Mir - "More than 30,000 runners lined the start of the London Marathon in Greenwich to observe a 30 second silence for those in Boston."
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