WOW! What an experience it was, going to London to watch my Sister Helen, in her first London Marathon yesterday! I’m still buzzing from the energy and excitement of the day.
The London Marathon is one of the biggest and most popular mass participation events in the world! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the day. Given that I like to be prepared, I did a fair bit of research so that we would see Helen at a few points, whilst keeping our travel efficient and manageable. Here’s how our day panned out!
We were traveling up from Winchester & Southampton, so decided to park at Westfield, where day charges are pretty reasonable, there are good tube links and we were the right side of London for getting home at the end of the day. It was an early (7am) start, so we could make sure we got parked and allowed enough time for traveling to our first viewing point.
From Westfield, we took the Central Line from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank. And from Bank we took the DLR (thankfully the industrial action strike was called off) to the Cutty Sark. We had originally planned to get off at Greenwich DLR, which on reflection I think we should have done, as the Cutty Sark station and area was very busy – but it worked out OK.
From the Cutty Sark DLR station we walked past the Cutty Sark, through the University of Greenwich gardens, to Romney Road – directly opposite the National Maritime Museum. This point was just after Mile 6. We arrived there in ample time, by around 10am. At this point we had great, unobstructed views of the route. We were right near a drinks station for the Elite men. Referring to the really handy Pace Guide (from the Marathon website) we timed our arrival so that we’d see the Elite men pass, which they did at around 10.28am.
It was amazing watching these athletes speed past us – great to see and it really got the crowds going, ready for the masses.
The masses started coming through 10 or 15 minutes later. Such a sight! The cheering and encouragement was infectious and we were soon carried away, calling out the names on the shirts of passing runners, ‘high fiving’ those on our side and clapping away! The heat really was intense and some runners were already struggling at mile 6.
The Marathon App was fantastic. You could enter the race numbers of those you wanted to see and track their location real time – this was absolutely invaluable. With so many runners, it was difficult to spot people, so if you knew to expect them coming, you were much less likely to miss them.
We also made some flags and had them on extendable flag poles (a fantastic find – light and collapsed down to fit in my bag!). Just bought plain flags from eBay and used iron on transfer paper for our personal message – very cheap and effective!
Having the flags meant our runner could easily spot us in amongst the spectators. We had also told Helen where to expect to see us and she wrote the miles on her arm, so she had a quick reference to refer to so she’d know when to look out. These 2 things she said really helped – without the flags, it would have been very hard for her to have seen us.
So, our plans all worked out and we were beyond excited to see Helen run towards us still looking fresh and full of energy at Mile 6. A quick passing high 5 and some encouraging cheers, and she was on her way!
And so were we! From here, we walked back through the University Gardens, past the Cutty Sark and went under the Thames via the Greenwich foot tunnel to the Isle of Dogs. There was a very short wait to access the tunnel but it was very well managed. It was only open 1 way, so you couldn’t have accessed it to get the other direction.
From the other side of the Thames, we made our way through Millwall Park up to East Ferry Road (near the Mudchute DLR). This took us about half an hour or so.
We found a great spot to watch just after Mile 17. There were lots of grassy banks to rest on and have some much needed refreshments. Again the app was fab, as we could see exactly when to look out for Helen.
At Mile 17 she was still looking amazing – lots of smiles and full of energy!
As we left this point and walked up towards mile 18, there were lots of runners walking and stopping at the side of the road. Not sure if people hit a bit of a wall at this point, but we definitely saw some struggling.
Our plan from here was to walk up to Westferry DLR Station and see Mile 20 but we realised this was unrealistic and so we amended our plans.
Instead we walked to Canary Wharf DLR station. It took a while to get over the footbridge to Canary Wharf, so this slowed us down quite a bit (it may have been easier to try and get on the DLR at Crossharbour or South Quay). From Canary Wharf, we took the Jubilee line to London Waterloo. This tube was BUSY (and hot & sweaty, nice!). The driver advised the passengers that it was unlikely they were going to stop at Westminster due to congestion, so advised people to get off at Waterloo. We’d already heard it wasn’t advised to try and access the end via Westminster, so had already planned to get off at Waterloo – which was a wise move.
From Waterloo, we headed straight to Waterloo Bridge (again avoiding Westminster Bridge). Tracking Helen on the app, it was a race against time as she was running along Victoria Embankment towards the bridge as we were on the bridge! So, we literally had to run to see her! We successfully spotted her between miles 24 and 25 as she ran under the bridge – with a great view from the bridge.
Had we known that timing would have been so tight, we would have tried to move faster from our previous stop. We would then have had time to get down to Victoria Embankment to see her from the ground.
From Waterloo Bridge, we walked up towards Trafalgar Square, up The Mall and under Admiralty Arch to the meeting point. Meeting points were labelled according to finishers surname. They weren’t easy to find given the sheer volume of people, but the official helpers were great at pointing us in the right direction. Checking the app, we could see that she’d finished and should be on her way.
4 hours 10 minutes – brilliant!
We spotted Helen walking to the meeting point and it was congratulatory hugs and celebrations all round! She was full of smiles and had an amazing run.
It was pretty overwhelming seeing all these runners celebrating their achievements with their medals proudly hung round their necks, wearing their finishers T Shirts. We even saw a marriage proposal!
From here we all headed for a much needed cool drink and finally made our way home.
This spectator route certainly needed some level of fitness! We clocked up over 20,000 steps and covered almost 15km! But we certainly couldn’t complain about our sore feet & legs having witnessed the extremes the runners pushed themselves to!
This plan was based on timing for a 4 hour marathon, so could obviously be adjusted accordingly for different times.
Our alternative (less ambitious plan or had the DLR strike gone ahead) was to have travelled from Westfield to Tower Hill and watched at Mile 13/14 The Highway and then again at Mile 22 The Highway. Some of Helen’s other supporters chose this option, which worked really well. The added bonus of this for the runner was that they saw some familiar faces at 4 points during the race, which was a real motivator!
Having reflected on the day and our plans, it all worked out great! Here are our top tips!
- Take plenty of food and drink. The schedule was pretty tight and everywhere was so busy, that there wasn’t much time for stopping off for refreshments. We did find an Asda at Mile 17, but the lunch time food selection was already sold out by the time we got there, so we had to be creative!
- Download the app to track your runners – absolutely invaluable.
- Take some flags or similar accessory and make your runner(s) aware of it. It will really help them find you amongst the crowds.
- Get the runners to write on their arm which miles to expect to see you. This will really help motivate them and remind them to look out for you.
- Prepare for the weather adequately! On reflection, we needed sun hats, sun screen and flip flops given the unprecedented heat this year. However, we could have just as likely needed rain coats & hoodies – it’s a long day out in the open, so do bring the right clothing.
- If you want to go for something to eat and/or drink after the event, think about booking somewhere. Everywhere is, unsurprisingly, extremely busy. Make sure you allow enough time to get there from your meeting point too, the crowds definitely slow everything down!
- Have fun – it really is a fantastic day!
- You can sponsor Helen (who ran for Sense) here.
- Read Helen’s marathon blog here.