diamond geezer

 Monday, November 29, 2004


The London Marathon always takes place on a spring morning in full daylight, usually in pleasant mild conditions. Not so RunLondon, which the marketing people at Nike this year scheduled for a late autumn evening in complete darkness. They branded the race Go Nocturnal, they dressed all 30000 athletes in fluorescent yellow jerseys and they set them running 10km around the streets of Southwark in temperatures notionally above freezing. Running's good for you, apparently, but last night I was glad I was only watching.

Swarms of dayglo competitors emerged from Canada Water tube station throughout the early evening, all heading for the mass start by Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. There were no pantomime cow outfits or people with purple hair dressed as fairies because this was a serious fun run. Five 'waves' of runners departed at half hour intervals, with Paula Radcliffe and friends in the first wave and the slower runners in the fifth. The start of each wave was preceded by a 10 minute mass warm-up, with some demented fitness trainer yelling "Are you ready?" from a big yellow stage to the flock of eager disciples spread out before him. The crowd raised their hands, flexed their calf muscles and then shuffled slowly down to the start where it took a good seven minutes to get everybody through.

This wasn't the most glamorous of routes. The streets of Rotherhithe are not renowned for their beauty, neither is Jamaica Road through Bermondsey a hotbed of attractive architecture. Thankfully the darkness covered up these visual weaknesses perfectly. The view improved somewhat around the halfway mark with a jog along the riverbank past City Hall, although I'm told the narrow streets through Shad Thames weren't exactly perfect for a mass running event. The most impressive section was undoubtedly over Tower Bridge, with streams of yellow athletes crossing to the north side before doubling back to return to Bermondsey for the muscle-sapping final leg. A sneaky footbridge placed a few hundred yards before the finish in Southwark Park convinced many that the end of the race was nigh. They used up their last reserves of strength in sprinting to the bridge, only to discover that the finishing line remained tantalisingly out of reach.

Southwark Park then took on the look of a surreal alien landscape as thousands of runners emerged from the finish funnel wrapped in silver foil. They glinted en masse in the darkness, panting but happy, and stumbled through the poorly-lit mud to try to find their friends in the mêlée. There were times to compare, medals to clutch and warm clothes to put on, and then a journey home to be made before leg muscles started to seize up. I got home at the same time as my yellow-jerseyed next-door neighbour, which was a good excuse to talk to her for the very first time. Well done to her, and to everyone else who ran London. Daylight would be preferable next time though, please.

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