Scope's Embankment cheering point

I’ve cheered at 10 London Marathons – here’s why I keep going back

The clock is already ticking – just 5 days until the start of the Virgin Media London Marathon 2018. This year over 100 brave runners will be taking part to raise money for Scope. And we’ll be fielding another team on the day – the volunteers who shout themselves hoarse at our cheering points*. Carol, a veteran of many cheering points, tells us why the marathon is such a great day out, even if you don’t run.

This year I’ll be taking part in my 10th London Marathon (cheering point). Every year people ask me “What’s the big deal? Why are you so excited?” and I have to confess that it’s addictive.

Collage of marathon costume photos including a dog, Mr Tickle, T Rex and the Tardis
Did I mention the Marathon costumes? They are epic!

Logically, standing around for the better part of a day to watch more than 35,000 total strangers run past should not be so rewarding, but it is. This year there’s the added bonus of fine weather but frankly most of us would be cheering in the pouring rain if we had to.

There’s a great party atmosphere at cheering points; usually someone is playing music loudly nearby, and you know that you might meet some old friends and certainly make some new ones. In fact, the Marathon has been described as “London’s 26-mile long street party”.  But there’s more to it than that.

In a small way, you’ve helped someone achieve something awesome

Predictably, when someone in your charity’s running shirt passes by, the whole cheering point loses its collective cool; everyone goes wild, bangers are banged, whistles blown, and high-fives exchanged. But most charity cheering points will tell you that they don’t just cheer their own runners – they’ll cheer everyone, especially those runners who look like they need a boost.

And that’s when the Marathon Magic happens – when you spot a total stranger, flagging a bit as they run by.  You yell out their name and a bit of encouragement and you can see it having an effect. They perk up a bit, maybe even smile. Sometimes eye contact is made and you get a thumbs up. Sometimes they might even be able to gasp out a “Thank you” but that’s just a bonus.

After my first marathon charity cheering point, the fundraising team got a letter of thanks from one of their runners. This is from memory, but it went something like this:

“It was my first London Marathon and I didn’t know what to expect. By the time I got to Canary Wharf I was really struggling but then I rounded a corner and a wall of orange went berserk.

And in that moment, I knew I was going to make it to the finish line because ahead of me on the route there were more pockets of total strangers willing me to finish and no way was I going to disappoint them”

And that’s why we do it. You know that in a small way you’ve helped someone achieve something awesome. For me, that’s a pretty good use of a Sunday.

My top tips for cheerers

The runners get plenty of tips for getting through the day, but I’ve picked up a few myself for cheerers:

  • Essentials – water and food. You might be standing directly opposite a coffee shop but, once the runners start coming through, there’s no way you can reach it if it’s on the other side of the road.
  • Tech issues  – if you’re planning to take photos make sure you’ve got an extra camera battery or a spare power supply for your phone. Also, once things get busy, just accept that you will miss great stuff if you’ve got your head down over your phone. Getting a signal can be tough too, especially anywhere around the finish line.
  • Timing – check what time the runners will start passing your spot and allow plenty of time to get there. Areas around tube stations tend to get really jammed and, even with stewards directing traffic, you can spend 15 minutes just covering 100 yards.
  • Clothing – Check the weather forecast on the day but layers are best. If you’re standing with a charity, allow room for a T-shirt to go over the top. Also bear in mind if it’s sunny, that the sun will move (obvs!) during the day. Although you may start out chilly and in the shade, you might be in full-on sunshine by lunchtime – so it’s hats and/or sunscreen, people.
  • If you’re not on a charity cheering point (WHY NOT?), try not to be standing downstream of a water point. Once they’ve re-hydrated, runners tend to drop their bottles and, if any runners accidentally kick or tread on a discarded bottle, the contents can go everywhere, but mostly all over you. I found this out the year that Lucozade pouches – briefly – replaced water. It was sticky.

If this has made you realise what a great day out you’re missing, there’s still time to join one of Scope’s cheering points. 

You can just show up on the day or sign up online to get last-minute updates and information. Either way, here is all the information you’ll need.

*Purple wigs optional

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