I’ve never really understood why people would go to watch Formula 1 motor racing. The cars whip past at outrageous-mph and they’re gone as soon as they’ve arrived, albeit about seventy times in succession. I’ve had much the same thought about cycling and distance running and, yet, being here in London has afforded me several opportunities to test my prejudice since I’ve been here.
Firstly, the Tour de France came through, I popped down, the peloton passed in about twenty seconds, and I went home. Then the Olympic Torch came over Tower Bridge just as I happened to be passing. Suppressing the apparently natural urge to ditch my shopping and wrestle it from the hands of the carrier I watched for twenty seconds, sighed, and went home.
So, I wouldn’t ordinarily have turned out for the marathon but seeing as I was living, at the time, about fifty yards from the Highway, it would have been particularly stubborn of me not to have a look, particularly as one of my Hawk chums was undertaking it. At least at this point you get to see two lanes worth of runners, being the main point where the route comes back on itself.
Thus if you miss the man dressed as a toilet as he heads east towards Limehouse at mile 13, you might at least catch him coming back towards the City at mile 22.
This is where the marathon is different. The star names are not really the big deal. It’s mainly about it being amateur hour, everyday folks undergoing a raw test of endurance and stamina. I can barely run twenty-six feet before collapsing in a sodden heap, so to see these folks running, often because they want to help lever a few quid in a charity bin, is quite inspiring.
Certainly, after the elite have passed, an espirit du corps appears to envelop both the runners and those watching from the sidelines. We cheer on uncelebrated Sunday joggers we’ve never met nor will again simply because they’ve Tippexed the name ‘Justin’ onto their blue running top. Know the name, connect with the person.
It is why those running for Macmillan have their green t-shirts whitewashed with the name in huge letters; their support group screaming and cheering for them individually as they pass. It is the presence of the boisterous Macmillan support group that makes the atmosphere, down around the Cannon Street Road turn off on the Highway, all the more captivating. I had intended to pop-out for half an hour, but ended up staying for two.
Keeping things interesting are the more outlandish types, peppered throughout the more commonly dressed runners to keep things visually interesting: The Masai warriors gambolling along in a weightless fashion, like a family of goats chasing after a bus; a guy wearing just underpants and a bow-tie running as though trying to keep a bead of back sweat from dribbling down his rectal cleft; rhino after rhino and that toilet-attired man running for Water Aid.
The time flies by watching all this, and when watching the non-elite, it’s not about seeing a winner or a battle, it’s about doffing a cap to human spirit. Not that every sight you see is particularly edifying. I had been well aware of the concept of chapped lips and joggers nipple. However, I had never really considered the concept of joggers cock.
Standing in the middle or the road, between the two streams of runners were a number of St John’s Ambulance workers fingers outstretched with blobs of Vaseline for people to swipe as they passed should they need to. Most of the female runners used it to sort out their lips. One guy though, a big ball of a man, in short shorts that revealed exactly which way he dressed, as they would have done had they been sported by an ant, decided to sort out his chaffage round the, err, home counties in full view of everyone. Even the Macmillan team quietened down a little as he reached down inside his get-up not gingerely and discreetly, but like a drawmaster attempting to play-fair in a high-stakes tombola raffle or perhaps someone trying to retrieve a sock from behind a radiator.
Still, for every glimpse of the male pubic tuft, there’s something quite inspiring about witnessing the marathon. After all, where else in life would one get to shout, “Go giant pasty! Go!”