Monday, 21 April 2008

"Sue Barker is gorgeous!"*

THE week had begun with very little in the way of energetic activity. Unless, of course, you count the walk to the pub. Yet here I was, surrounded by 46,000 people, all running for 26 miles and 385 yards.

This, of course, was the weekend of the London Marathon and I (in an uncharacteristic fit of charity and good will to all men) could be found standing on Tower Bridge cheering those 46,000 on, and in particular the British Heart Foundation 'Heart Runners'.

The marathon is not something I have ever really grasped before. To me, running for 26 miles on a Sunday morning has never held much appeal, but to be there, among that crowd, cheering on anyone and everyone for their efforts, I started to see. Running a marathon is an amazing feat, and the 1% of the British population who has ever run: you have my utmost respect.

I was more than a spectator this weekend, however. My cousin Graham was running for the first time. Armed with an estimated times sheet and a BHF supporters t-shirt, I attempted to follow him by foot and by train, planning to cheer him from the BHF stand at various mile points. Such plans were always doomed to fail, given that I had no idea what time he would cross the start line and that when holding a camera, especially in London, I have a tendency to wander. Thus, after parting company at London Bridge — Graham caught an overground train to the start line at Greenwich — I ran around the likes of the Scoop, Tower Bridge, City Hall and beyond into the delightful Wapping, with dozens of photos to show for it. And all before the race had begun!

After finally negotiating my way out of Wapping (a sign saying "Pirates" had rather thrown me off course), I returned to Tower Bridge to watch the lead women and the wheelchair race leaders, got distracted by taking photos of the Tower of London and then joined the BHF crowd to cheer on Graham and the other Heart Runners. The noise made by our team and the other charity stalls along the bridge was tremendous, bolstered by the resident band playing "Eye of the Tiger", its chorus a rousing symphony of saxophone and kazoo.

Unfortunately, it then started to rain. For a time I braved the weather — after all, getting a little bit wet is nothing compared to running a marathon — but it got very heavy indeed. Alas, with hindsight this was the very moment not to give up looking out for him, but give up I did. I went in search of warmth, shelter, somewhere to stand where a small child sitting on their parent's shoulders couldn't hit me with a flag announcing support for "Auntie Jane", and a nice cup of tea. The plan thus changed to find Graham as he passed Canary Wharf, so I hopped onto the DLR to the Isle of Dogs.

From here I saw Wonder Woman, a man running and juggling, Elvis (he had lost his wig since passing me on Tower Bridge), a shepherd with an inflatable sheep, a clown and a man running in only a Borat thong, but never my cousin. Despite other attempts along the route, it wasn't until the BHF after party on Northumberland Avenue that I got to catch up with him.

Here we rested. Embarrassingly, my day of supporting and sightseeing around the photogenic hotspots of the Thames bank had exhausted me more than a brisk jog around the city had of him. I was still sore from the 4-mile "short run" Graham had taken me on Thursday night, where we had left London behind us entirely and admired the rich and wealthy in their greenbelt mansions. It was more exercise than I was quite used to, but I felt extremely good for it afterwards, although walking down stairs proved tricky for a very long time!

This year was the 28th London Marathon. It is the largest annual fund raising event in the world. Congratulations to all involved, you are all heroes.


*The wording on one BHF Heart Runner's shirt to try and get on telly!

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