VLM Got This Very Wrong

So it seems the marathon broke me a little bit. I managed to get myself though work on Tuesday feeling really tired and sore. Once I got home I started feeling progressively worse and about 7.30pm went to bed feeling shivery, sick and feverish. I had an unsettled night with a high temperature and a very uncomfortable tummy and lower back. Yesterday was pretty miserable, slipping in and out of fitful sleep and with a funny sort of tummy ache and migraine-y type headache leaving me not quite knowing what to do with myself.

I feel a little better today after a better night. I’ve even had a bit of food and am now actually sitting up on the sofa (watching the Lion King). I have been scrolling through social media and news posts from the marathon and catching up with people I know who ran it. Most of them thankfully had amazing experiences. I know people who went sub three hours and I know people who were slower than I was and lots and lots in-between. I am really excited to hear that they had the great race and the fantastic experience the London Marathon promises.

However, I am also hearing and reading about a very different experience. One that I find really upsetting and one which makes me really really angry. You can get a snapshot of that by reading the BBC online article ‘London marathon runners ‘called fat and slow’ by contractors‘. It is quite clear that slower runners did not have the same support or experience that everyone else had or which all runners should be able to expect. I have to be honest, when I saw 6.15, 6.30 and 7 hours pacers (I didn’t see the 7.30 pacers at the start) I was excited! It is actually rare for there to be pacers at any event that mean anything to me. Even at parkrun the pacers are often out of reach! So to see pacers at the back end made me feel welcome, made me feel part of it. I was excited.

The experience of those at the back seems horrendous! Imagine being laughed at, told to hurry up and generally mocked – and that by people who are supposed to be supporting you. Then imagine being sprayed by clean up fluid and possibly getting chemical burns. And all of this while running in an event you have trained hard for, that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and for which you have raised 1000s of pounds for charity. Just imagine that for a second.

The experience of the back of the pack runners here was not only disappointing it was also dangerous. Water stations being dismantled not only sends a real message of ‘this race is not really for you’ but can also have serious consequences. Yes, even slower runners might have a hydration and fuelling strategy that is based on the advertised water and Lucozade stations. When those stations do not exist the consequences could be pretty serious. Even as I was coming through water stations in the latter half of the run I could see that they were packing up. I don’t think I need to really spell out the dangers of making runners weave through traffic or even just pedestrians.

So what’s the answer here? It re-opens the debate about cut off times for some. But the thing is, the Marathon is supposed to have an 8 hour cut off time. The instructions clearly say that if you fall below a certain pace you might have to move to the pavement but if you finish within 8 hours you get an official time and medal etc. So while that is not ideal, I also get the need to re-open roads etc. However, if you have an 8 hour cut off time then you need to guarantee that everyone within that pace can finish and finish safely. To me that means ensuring that all runners are properly supported, that the marshals are still on course, that the drinks stations are there, the mile markers still up and that those who have had to move to the pavement are supported by having a path cleared. If you can’t do that, then change the cut off time.

Yes that’s right. If you cannot support all runners on the current cut off time then reduce the time allowed to a point where you can. I know that might be a controversial point but honestly, as a slow runner I would rather look at a race and decide not to enter because the cut off time is too tight for me than run it thinking the cut off is ok just to find that they didn’t mean it. Don’t ever give a token nod to inclusivity – that’s worse than not being inclusive at all. Of course, given London Marathon’s status as one of the biggest charity fundraising events and the huge number of first time marathoners taking part, it would be nice if it was genuinely inclusive.

So I can’t help but compare this marathon to the Dopey one in January. There was no hint of packing up anywhere along the course. Yes there is a cut off time – one that is advertised everywhere and people do get swept but the 16 minute mile pace from when the last person starts is advertised and that’s the one that is enforced. It is clear what is expected and what happens when you fall behind pace. We weren’t right at the back for that one either but as we left the race retreat we saw people coming through the finish and the support for those runners was phenomenal. The course was very much still open.

It’s not like I would want to run London again anyway but having heard and read about some of these awful experience I certainly wouldn’t want to. VLM got this wrong and apparently that’s not something that just happened this year. So I am adding my voice to the call for a genuinely inclusive London Marathon, for an apology to those runners at the back of the pack, for a re-think of how the race should be managed so that everyone can have a positive experience, whether they run sub-three or just sneak in within the official cut-off time. Just get is sorted.