Last Sunday was the London Marathon, which featured probably the most impressive cast of elite distance runners ever assembled. The men’s and women’s fields each boasted both the reigning world champions and 2012 Olympic gold medalists. The men’s field also featured the reigning world record holder in the marathon and 11 runners who’ve completed a marathon in under 2:06:00. And just for good measure, Mo Farah was there, running his first marathon.
But I didn’t go to see any of the elite runners — and not only because that would have required me to arrive earlier!
No, the reason was that, as impressive and — I imagine — humbling as it would be to see the likes of Makau, Mutai, Kebede, Jeptoo and the Kiplagats fly by, the main attraction of marathons is not the display of superhuman talent, but rather the indomitable human spirit. As someone remarked after the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week, “If you want to try to crush the human spirit, marathon runners are not the people to target.”
As if the massive crowds cheering on, for the most part, total strangers; or the nutters who are running 26.2 miles in a gorilla suit or a wedding dress or a top hat as if it’s perfectly normal; or the suffering weekend warriors who have taken almost 5 hours to run the marathon, but suddenly, as they hit the finishing stretch, find within themselves one last burst of energy and charge down The Mall like they’re Usain Bolt — if that’s not enough to restore your confidence in humanity, then there’s also the fact that the vast majority of runners at the London Marathon are running to raise money for charity.
Indeed, the range of causes represented ran the gamut from research for Cystic Fibrosis through to Save the Rhinos, and I can only guess how many millions of pounds were raised through, quite literally, all that suffering.
Marathons are always a celebration and a human spectacle, but having some of the most iconic buildings on the planet as the backdrop adds that extra bit more.