In an ideal world I'd have stumbled out of bed at 8:30am, had a cup of tea and wandered out onto my front doorstep with a camera. But we no longer live in an ideal world, so instead I took a ridiculously early train into the City to watch the marathon there. I think I was one of the only spectators there, apart from a few business types who don't believe in bank holidays and the odd bleary clubber stumbling home. Dozens of security guards stood spaced out along the route, presumably to keep traffic out of the way and discourage public disorder, but they weren't having to do very much. Time ticked by (sponsored by Omega, official timekeepers of the Olympic Games), and the bells of St Paul's rang out half past six. Some runners would surely be along soon.
Ah, here they came. First the Bupa truck full of officials and cameras - because, remember, this pre-Olympic event had piggybacked onto an existing race event. Then a police outrider on a motorbike, then two less-imposing policemen on pushbikes. And then the runners, all bunched together in accordance with the race instructions. They pumped and puffed and gritted their teeth, as marathon runners do, no doubt enjoying the camaraderie because this wasn't a genuine competition. Each had an A4 sheet of yellow pinned to their chest bearing their race number and nothing else - uneducated spectators would never have realised that the very first Olympic test event was jogging by. And finally the support team bringing up the rear, including a small blue van and a rather larger green lorry. [photo]
If I stayed standing where I was everyone would be round again in about three quarters of an hour. London's Olympic marathon route isn't point to point, it's a circuit race, with four laps from the Mall to the Tower and back to complete. Even better, from a wandering spectator's point of view, is the incredibly wiggly route followed from the City of London. I had time to stroll from St Paul's to Cheapside and watch the race pass by again, then nip up to Bank for yet another close encounter. You'll never manage such manoeuvres on 2012 marathon day - the streets will be far too full of barriers and people - but before 7am on a bank holiday morning there were no such restrictions, no restrictions at all. [photo]
To Leadenhall Market, which is one of the additional landmarks added to the marathon route when it was whisked screaming away from the Whitechapel Road. The market's wrought iron and glass canopy certainly made for a picturesque backdrop as the runners swept through [photo]. TV cameras are going to love this event, so long as they're well-positioned. Some of the intermediate City streets are pig ugly, courtesy of the office block architects of the 80s and 90s, so round here it'll be visually important to focus on aerial shots and such heritage gems as Leadenhall. Possibly too heritage, as it turned out. After the runners had passed by I was intrigued to see the large green support lorry attempting to follow through the market and round into Lime Street. It'll never get round that corner, I thought, and it didn't. The truck became almost-jammed between a bollard, a barrier and a concrete block, forcing the driver to stop and remanoeuvre slowly backwards and forwards. When that didn't work two passengers nipped out and ran around the vehicle to see if there was anything they could move. The concrete block wasn't budging, nor the bollard, but one bloke (eventually) yanked the metal barrier out of the way allowing the lorry to (eventually) move on. That's why they do these test events, you know, to try to iron out embarrassing wrinkles which would look damned embarrassing in front of a TV audience of millions. But whoever designed this updated marathon route has unintentionally selected a bend that large vehicles can't drive round. Wouldn't have had that problem on Bow Road, guys. I didn't see them wheeling through, but the three wheelchair athletes testing out the Paralympic course also had problems with the Leadenhall stage. It's cobbled all the way through, you see, which proved much too bumpy for a smooth ride. Organisers have already pledged to tweak the Paralympic marathon route to run elsewhere as a result, but the Olympic route will not be changed.
The marathon route turned back outside the Tower of London. Rather appropriately it ran right up to the remains of the Roman city walls, opposite the White Tower, then turned turtle round the central reservation and headed back into town again [photo]. And the final 150m of this route did something the Olympic publicity machine has never dared mention. It ran through Tower Hamlets. Not much of the borough, admittedly, just the tiny historic corner where none of us live, but Tower Hamlets all the same. The athletes passed out of the City at Trinity Square Gardens, passing the big "Welcome to Tower Hamlets" sign as they did so [photo]. Thirty seconds in, thirty seconds back, that's all the time they spent in my home borough. But they came back one lap later, and again, and again - a total of four times over the course of the race. That's four minutes in Tower Hamlets, which is infinitely better than the zero minutes everybody in politics and the media seems to be assuming. Assuming the Olympic men and women come back and run this fast in the summer of 2012, then I reckon Tower Hamlets might end up with ten minutes as an official Host Borough. Woo. It's all coming up roses for Tower Hamlets now, innit? We've been given preferential treatment in the Torch Relay, over and above every other local authority in London, and we've been granted a special Olympic tourist campaign to promote curry restaurants in our borough only. And then it turns out we've not been quite so hard done by as everyone thinks and we do have a strip of marathon anyway. OK, so a mere 150 metres of racetrack is scant reward for a marathon that was supposed to run straight across the borough through the heart of the community. But yes, the Olympic marathon will visit Tower Hamlets. I wonder why neither the council nor London 2012 has ever previously mentioned this geographical truth.
Athletes won't be running London's Olympic Marathon route again until Sunday 5th August 2012. It's going to be a tight squeeze filling the pavements along the route, and a tighter squeeze down some backstreets than others. But take the opportunity over the next 14 months to stake out such thoroughfares as Puddle Dock, Lothbury, Birdcage Walk and Byward Street to see where you think might be the best place to spectate. And next time perhaps you'll be out on the streets for the marathon too, watching the world's elite jog by over and over and over and over.