London a key step for future races
LONDON -- It was a beautiful, uneventful event. The only distress evident on runners' faces in Sunday's London Marathon was the normal kind, from cramps or blackened toenails or a bum knee. There was minor unhappiness among those who'd hoped the digital timer would stop a few clicks sooner. They'll get over that and many of them will try again.
The fact that 35,000 ran without incident in London does not reattach limbs or restore lost loved ones or fully quell the reverberating sonic waves of fear and stress that followed the bombings at last week's Boston Marathon. But it was the first step forward on the course ahead.
Chicago is the next major marathon in the United States, on Oct. 13. Race director Carey Pinkowski said he and his staff will caucus with their counterparts from Boston and London to solicit feedback on future security practices. He is no stranger to those issues -- Chicago held its 2001 race a month after the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. -- and expressed confidence in the city's ability to stage a safe and successful race.
But Sunday, Pinkowski, like many, simply allowed himself to drink in the happy spectacle. He said the exuberance in London following a week of shock, sorrow and reflection was "infectious'' and paves the way for the rest of the racing season.
"It was amazing to see the outpouring here, and the determination to get to the start,'' said Pinkowski, who watched part of the race from a picturesque vantage point on the Tower Bridge.
"Boston was not an attack on a marathon. It was an attack on humanity. Unfortunately, it took place at a marathon, but it could have taken place anywhere, and I think people responded to that. There was no hand-wringing and I didn't run into anyone who was in fear.''
Jon Kyte, a 29-year-old high school teacher who lives in London, said he never considered withdrawing from the race. "If you don't turn up, you effectively give them the upper hand,'' said Kyte, who completed his ninth marathon overall and second here. "There's always a potential [for violence] anywhere. Our thoughts are with those who were injured, and hats off to the authorities for swift action.''
Kyte's parents, sister and girlfriend were waiting for him at the marathon's designated "meet and greet" area at Horse Guards Parade, an open gravel grounds just off the finishing stretch on The Mall that is used for royal ceremonial occasions and also was the site of last summer's Olympic beach volleyball competition. After posing for a photo, the family collectively asked to deliver a message: "Give our love to everyone in Boston.''
The tuned-up elite male runners and amateurs of both genders who were massed at the start at 10 a.m. London time stood stock-still and quiet for 30 seconds in a striking, powerful remembrance of the Boston tragedy. Many closed their eyes. Most had pinned black ribbons to their jerseys.
Then the floodgates opened, and it was business as usual -- that is, the typically heartfelt and festive business that is always layered over the competitive aspect of a major marathon. Three-quarters of the field raised money for charitable organizations that made their presence known along the route and at the finish, bearing brightly colored banners and balloons. Some runners competed for places in the Guinness Book of World Records in esoteric categories such as fastest in a full-body animal suit (gorilla) and fastest male and female in a wedding dress (contested by a newlywed couple, each wearing a dress).
Most were content to navigate the 26.2-mile course in regular athletic garb, like Claire and David Grima of Raynes Park, members of the Hercules Wimbledon running club and enthusiasts who wanted their 2-year-old and 9-month-old sons to be in the crowd.
"With reference to Boston, if anything, the fans were louder today,'' said David Grima.
The throng of runners and their family members and friends pouring into Horse Guards Parade swelled through midafternoon until it almost filled the vast space. Thousands of feet kicked up a thin ground fog of dust. Police, some with canine assistants on leashes, threaded through the crowd or simply stood in a state of relaxed alert as runners embraced their loved ones, hydrated, munched on protein bars, lined up for porta-potties and stretched out weary legs.
Security around the finish line was obvious but not obtrusive and included British soldiers as well as uniformed police officers. Bags and purses carried by credentialed media and staff were hand-searched at entrances. The huge medical contingent on hand was a reminder of how critical the professionals were last week in Boston, and the mountains of red plastic bags at the finish containing runners' spare clothing and other belongings provided tangible evidence of the complex logistics facing race organizers.
British star Mo Farah, a two-time gold medalist on the track in last summer's Olympic Games, tested his legs by running half the marathon, then dropped out as he had planned. Ethiopia and Kenya, the sport's twin power poles, split the men's and women's elite races as Tsegaye Kebede and Priscah Jeptoo were victorious, respectively. Boston women's wheelchair division winner Tatyana McFadden of the U.S. made it two victories in one week.
But Sunday belonged to the amateurs who reclaimed the streets for runners and fans of running everywhere.
At about 3 p.m. local time, five hours after the mass start, the crowds along the course had thinned considerably, and so had the once-steady stream of marathoners. They walked slowly and silently down the middle of The Mall past the finish line in an informal formation that could have been mistaken for a protest were it not for the relief in many eyes -- not at having arrived safely but at having willed themselves to the finish.
In the background, a soothing, mannered British voice kept repeating the same two words over the public address system.
"Well done,'' the voice intoned. "Well done. Well done. Well done.''