March 28, 2017
So a week on from the recent London terrorist attack on Westminister Bridge I feel inspired to write this post about safety at the London Marathon which is now less than a month away. But let me be clear this is not by any means a blog post that implies that this event is at any higher risk than ever, nor that we should let terrorism affect our day to day lives in London.
But before I talk about the marathon, let me take you back to the 6th July 2005, I was working as a project manager for the London Borough of Newham managing volunteers who were backing the bid for London to host the 2012 games.
We all waited nervously as the president of the international olympic committee opened the envelope and revealed that…
the 2012 Olympics would be awarded to the city of….LONDON!!!!!
To say that afternoon (and evening) was a celebration would be an understatement. It was and still remains one of the happiest moments of my life.
However the very next day, we awoke to the news that London had been attacked as three separately detonated bombs went off in quick succession aboard London Underground trains across the city, and later, a fourth on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Fifty-two people were killed and over 700 more were injured in the attacks, making it Britain’s worst terrorist incident since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Now, at this point I wasn’t really that on top of world politics, or aware of the threat of terrorism. But that day changed my life forever.
It felt personal, it felt like an attack on everything I believed made London a great place, it felt like nothing would ever feel the same again, and it made me ultra worried about the fact London would now be hosting the biggest sporting event on the planet in just a few years.
However, over the subsequent few years in my various roles working on the planning for the 2012 games, I had the privilege of working with local authority partners, the fire service and the police on behind the scenes arrangements to ensure London’s safety.
I learned about all the precautions that are put in place for large scale events, and realised that even when you can’t see security measures they are there in place keeping us all safe, and ensuring we still manage to enjoy the events we want to be a part of.
The London Marathon is no different to this. Months and months of planning will be going into that one days events. Security measures will be being assessed daily, and I would say that with some sensible planning on your behalf, either as a spectator or as a participant, there really is no reason to be unduly concerned about taking part.
In their guidance online for spectators, the London Marathon suggest the following
Before setting off, you need to prepare – spectating isn’t quite as tough as marathon training but it still needs some thought:
Travel light – you will be standing for hours on end, so keep your belongings to a minimum and try and leave as many valuables as you can at home.
Comfortable clothes (especially shoes) are a must. You should be prepared for a typical April day in London – sun, showers and wind.
It’s busy! If you are a regular commuter, think rush hour. If not, think what it’s like when you attend a concert or festival. You will often have to queue and some stations may be forced to shut temporarily while staff clear the crowds.
Expect to do lots of walking, including stairs and escalators – you should think carefully before bringing young children; pushchairs can also be troublesome.
Having run the London Marathon twice and having participated as a spectator many many times, the advice I give below is in my opinion just simple common sense, and should help you relax and enjoy the occasion.
So here goes…
- Have a game plan – Know how you intend to approach the day. Have an idea of where you plan to be at what point in the day and share these plans with loved ones. If running, work out your best and worst case scenario times, as this will help your supporters know where and when to expect you, but do stress that this is your race, and they need to fit around you, not the other way round. Expect that things might not go to plan and make peace with that…in 2012 I missed my whole family at Canary Wharf because it was too loud and busy to spot them.
- Have an emergency plan – Think about a few scenarios which might put your original plan into question. Injury, sickness, phone battery dying, a faster or slower than expected race, bad weather, an unexpected incident. How will you get home? where is a safe meeting spot? How can you communicate your whereabouts? Please make sure you have your emergency details written on your bib number. I couldn’t find anyone at the finish line in 2012 as planned, but I had prearranged to meet my partner and some friends at a nearby pub.
- Travel Light – You will need less than you think you will on the day. The more stuff you have with you the more challenging the day will be. Ensure you have some cash and a topped up Oyster card. Write your key emergency numbers on a piece of paper and laminate it. If you can avoid bag drop all together this will make logistics a whole heap easier, especially at the end when your mind might be a bit frazzled. Over the years I have realised that I never need half the stuff I pack and take with me, I’ve got it down to a fine art now and rarely need more than a pocket full of stuff and a warm layer which I leave at the start line.
- Avoid the congested spots where possible – I know you will be thinking about the iconic parts of the route, but so will everyone else. These are not the places to spot loved ones. The noise makes it almost impossible to hear your name being called. Look at the route and find spots where there are less crowds, and if possible spectators should avoid the finish line all together. As a runner my advice would be to move out of the finish line area as promptly as possible. In 2015 the highlight of my race was spotting my mum and sister twice along the route, both times at very quiet spots (Bermondsey and Embankment).
- Be vigilant – Keep your wits about you, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the event. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t, so don’t be afraid to report anything weird to stewards or police. They can check things and just let you just get on with the race. Don’t only think about terrorism, but keep an eye out on other runners that look unwell or need a bit of extra support. Last year while manning the Too Fat to Run cheering station at mile 10, we were beginning to pack away while there were still a few power walkers on the course. One lady was really tearful so I walked with her for a while. She said, “I haven’t done enough training and I don’t think I can finish it” I asked her how important it was to her and she told me she was raising money for a charity close to her heart, I asked her if she thought she could walk for another 4 hours and she said, “Absolutely” and with that she gave me a high five and she was gone. Later I checked her race number and she did in fact finish, and in just over 7 hours too.
The London Marathon is the most incredible event that takes place in my wonderful city each year. I can still remember the first time I took a bunch of local kids along to the mini marathon that happens early in the morning on the last 3 miles of the route, how incredibly inspiring it was.
Be sensible folk, be smart and enjoy every moment of the event. Terrorists win by creating terror, we win by spreading joy and living with love in our hearts.
See you all at mile 10 on race day folk…you will probably hear us before you see us.
This year we have more than 50 runners from the Too Fat to Run Community, including 11 from The Clubhouse our online running club.
Just before Mile 10, near Surry Quays we will have a cheering station with a further 30 or so ladies from our community, cheering on and supporting all of those brave runners.
If you fancy joining us please do come along….please arrive before 9am to avoid the crowds….I will post further instructions on our Facebook Page in a few weeks time.