Some seven months after the Olympic flame was finally extinguished, ending London 2012, thousands of athletes will return to the capital this weekend. But this time the world’s elite runners will be up against a woman knitting a scarf and the planet’s fastest giant foam rubber fire extinguisher.
Organisers of the London Marathon said today that they hoped this weekend’s race would recapture the spirit of the London Games as well as standing up in solidarity with the victims of the bombings that devastated the Boston race on Monday.
Some 36,000 runners will mass on Blackheath tomorrow morning in a remarkable unification of sporting excellence with human endeavour, as a field including the double Olympic champion Mo Farah and no fewer than 15 London 2012 gold medallists.
Coming at the end of a winter that has threatened to bully spring out of the seasonal cycle, the race may also prove to be an opportunity for Londoners to usher in something resembling a return to normal climatic service.
Hugh Brasher, the race director and the son of the London Marathon’s joint founder Chris Brasher, said: “We hope that the marathon will squeeze into one day all the excitement and excellence that we saw over three days of the London Games in terms of the different races.
“Last summer’s Games were absolutely amazing, and it reminded us how good we are at putting on these types of events. I think the marathon allows us to recapture some of that, from the athletes, to the venues, to the masses of people who will come out and offer their support.”
Mr Brasher said: “One of the most positive things we can do on Sunday is to ensure that the race and the event is even better than it has been before. That is very much what we are focused on.”
While many eyes will be on Farah, who will run only half the distance as part of his transition to becoming a marathon runner, the heart of the race will be the tens of thousands of amateurs taking part, some of them bidding for unusual glory while also raising money for charity.
Among them will be 60 runners attempting to set an array of Guinness World Records – including Jerome Timbrell, who hopes to complete the fastest marathon as a mascot while dressed as a fire extinguisher. Meanwhile Susie Hewer, 56, will attempt to break her own personal best of knitting a scarf more than 162cm in length while completing the 26.2-mile course.
She said: “It will be my 30th marathon but I only knit during the London race. A friend said I should stay at home and do my knitting, so I’ve combined both.”
She added: “I think we will see the return of the Olympic atmosphere, not least because of the crowd you get for the marathon. It’s very special because everyone offers their support to everyone.”
The race takes place amid further evidence that the nation’s appetite for world-class athletics remains unsated. All 130,000 tickets for the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium, which will see many of the stars of 2012 return to Stratford in July, sold out within 75 minutes of going on sale today.
The extra mile: runners' stories
Boston bomb survivor
Michael Smith, 51, Weymouth
“I finished the Boston Marathon in 3 hours 48 minutes. The finish area was crowded with people milling around trying to find their families.
Suddenly there was a massive explosion. There was lots of smoke and people were screaming and panicking. I’ve run 152 marathons but nothing like that’s happened before. I’m concerned about Sunday but that’s natural. I imagine people will be worried when they get to the finish.”
The best friend
Lisa Elliott, 31, London
“Fran was 33 when she died on 8 April after being diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29. I’d known her for nine years, ever since we started work at a London PR agency on the same day. I ran my first marathon last year and said I’d never run it again. I want to do London for her, to honour her memory. Paris [marathon] and London was always the plan. It just makes me more determined to do her proud.”
Matt Briggs, 30, York
“I decided to lose weight in January 2010 after seeing a photo on Facebook. I was 31 stone. All I did was work, eat and sleep. I began to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into my lifestyle. I’ve lost 16 stone, making me Slimming World’s Greatest Loser. Slimming World asked me to join its running team. We’re running for Cancer Research UK. I’d love to do it in four hours.”
The cancer patient
Carl Humphries, 49, Blackpool
“I started running about four years ago. I originally planned to run the marathon for Anthony Nolan, which found a bone marrow donor for my wife Diana when she had leukaemia. In February I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The cancer spread to my pelvis but my training has continued – I will now be donating some money I raise to Prostate Cancer UK.”