London Marathon delivers feel-good event of the year as crowds ensure race transcends sport

·3 min read
Runners relax on the Mall after finishing the 2021 London Marathon (AFP)
Runners relax on the Mall after finishing the 2021 London Marathon (AFP)

The roar that greeted runners at every corner throughout the capital on Sunday for the Virgin Money London Marathon will live long in the memory for so many.

A tremendous occasion celebrated by hundreds of thousands on the streets came with an outpouring of emotion after more than 18 months of agony and frustration.

This was more than a sporting event, it was a day to demonstrate what society can offer and how a collective spirit can lift others in their darkest hours.

That desperate feeling was temporarily felt by most on Sunday, with runners succumbing to the physical and mental grind of the gruelling 26.2 mile distance. In almost every instance it would arrive abruptly, too, moments after the feeling of bouncing along a bed of clouds en route to The Mall. But millions around the UK and beyond will hope to bottle that bond and unity that affectionately spread on Sunday, harnessing it as a foundation moving forward across many walks of life.

It was therefore poignant how a part-time NHS doctor, Phil Sesemann, was able to thrive on his debut at the distance in the iconic race’s return following the pandemic. And 889 days after its last version along the traditional route, the 29-year-old, celebrating his birthday on the day, stormed home as the top male Briton. Sesemann finished seventh overall in the men’s elite race, clocking a superb two hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds.

Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya heads down the mall on the way to winning the Women's Elite Race (Getty)
Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya heads down the mall on the way to winning the Women's Elite Race (Getty)

So from Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge to Embankment and Buckingham Palace, the volume rarely dipped. Many, including myself, saw their optimism over a dream time dissipate in the closing 10km as a deceptive headwind provided one final hurdle just as energy became as precious as petrol during the current fuel crisis.

But the crowd simply would not allow a lonely moment of respite on the side of the road, with Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, who stormed to victory in the women’s elite race, thrilled by the support: "I’m so happy for the London crowd. Every kilometre there were people cheering all the way."

She was right, too, every time the mind attempted to trick a runner into submission, a sudden jolt arrived in the form of encouragement, urging each runner to chip away at the remaining distance and helping to snap any lingering thoughts of quitting.

The event attempted to resonate with those beyond the running community, too, raising awareness for important issues such as climate change. Its carbon impact was lessened by electric vehicles leading the way among the elite races for the BBC’s footage, while each runner was gifted a goodie bag after crossing the finish line on The Mall, with its material made from sugar cane, rather than plastic.

Runners on The Highway as they take part in the London Marathon at Tower Bridge (Getty)
Runners on The Highway as they take part in the London Marathon at Tower Bridge (Getty)

But while the event does not have the answers to all of society’s problems, perhaps its greatest service was to offer a distraction from life’s everyday adversity and worries.

So while marathon season rumbles on and times may well prove to be quicker in Chicago, Boston, Tokyo and New York - London has set a different type of standard. The event extended far beyond the sport, providing a shot of inspiration to everybody involved.

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