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I’ll never run a marathon but watching other people do so is one of my favourite things – here’s why.

50,000 runners will take part in the 2022 London Marathon this Sunday 2nd October, attempting the iconic 26.2 mile race to raise money for charities of their choice. I will not be one of them. But, nevertheless, I look forward to the day of the marathon every year.

Personally, I’m closer to the couch than the 5k when it comes to running and I’d opt for a sweaty cardio session in the gym over a long run any day (not to mention my dodgy knee that throbs after attempting even a few miles). 

But I come from a family of runners, so watching races is something I’ve done all my life and I have come to realise that it’s one of the most life-affirming, uplifting experiences there is, something that is confirmed to me tenfold when I go to watch the London Marathon – one of the biggest sporting events in the UK – each year.

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Cheering on runners is always an emotional experience.

A chance to talk to strangers

In a big city like London, everyone is used to keeping their heads down, finding even momentary eye contact with a stranger on the Tube an uncomfortable experience. During races like the marathon, the opposite becomes true for a day. You cheer and clap for people you’ll never meet again, looking out for those who might be struggling in order to give them a personal shoutout. 

Last year, two young girls – neither of them older than six – were stood next to me with their parents spent the best part of an hour during the 2021 marathon searching for names on tops, coming up with personalised chants for each of them, which brought smiles to every runner and spectator’s face. That’s the other great thing about watching races – not only do you engage with the runners, but the people around you too, striking up conversations about the family member or friend they’re waiting for or the city they have travelled from to watch the race.

Witnessing real, sincere effort

In a world where self-deprecation has become the norm and putting in effort has become somewhat uncool, taking part in the marathon feels like the antithesis of this. Running 26.2 miles is something no one can do without putting in work and seeing so many people do so – often for no other reason than to prove to themselves that they can – is heartwarming.

People often find themselves emotional when watching the marathon. It makes sense, really – witnessing firsthand so many strangers’ struggle and success in such a short space of time is almost an entirely unique experience. 

It’s a hopeful experience too, which is why so many people commit to running a marathon after watching one. This was all my non-runner friend could talk about while we watched the race last year and whether he eventually manages to do so or not, there is something special about other people’s achievements rubbing off on you in a positive way – as opposed to them encouraging envy or bitterness – that can fill you with hope long after race day.

People of all ages came out to watch the marathon., Rain or shine, spectators made sure to keep spirits high.

Exploring a new (or familiar) city

The London marathon spans some of the city’s most iconic locations, including the Greenwich Maritime Museum, Tower Bridge and, of course, Buckingham Palace and The Mall. As someone who recently moved to London, travelling around the city to see runners at different points of the race was an incredible way for me to see some of the sights. 

And although my step-count was nothing compared to that of the runners, I walked a total of 13km following them around the city by foot, making it a fun, affordable and healthy day out.

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An opportunity to be charitable

The London Marathon holds the world record for the largest annual single day fundraising event, according to the London Marathon Charitable Trust. Watching the race and supporting runners is therefore also an incredible way to give back to charity. Over £1 billion has been raised for charity since the first London marathon took place in 1981, with the money going to thousands of different charities, which are often close to runners’ hearts.

Astonishment at the human body

“I can’t believe this many people have run a marathon,” is what I continuously say every time I watch the London Marathon. Running 26.2 miles is an incredible feat that takes so much mental and physical strength. Realising that it is something 50,000 people are capable of gives you a lot of faith in human nature and in yourself, too.

I watched each runner pass me by yesterday with the kind of astonishment that is usually reserved only for David Attenborough’s documentaries about incredible phenomenons of nature. And it’s pretty nice to feel that kind of awe about humans, if only for one day.

How to watch the 2022 London Marathon in person

If you’re free this Sunday, why not go down and watch the marathon yourself? The most well-known spectator spots are the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and The Mall. You could start your day at the Cutty Sark, which is around the seven mile point, and watch runners finish the event at The Mall later in the day. 

However, these locations get very busy, so you could also head to Tower Bridge and follow the 1.5 mile stretch towards Limehouse, where runners will cross twice (once heading east towards Canary Wharf and then again on their way back). Or, situate yourself at The Isle of Dogs is another popular place to watch the race with a great atmosphere.

The main landmarks that marathon runners will pass through are as follows:

  • Mile 6: Cutty Sark
  • Mile 12: Tower Bridge
  • Mile 18: Canary Wharf skyscraper
  • Mile 22: Tower of London
  • Mile 25: London Eye (on opposite Embankment)
  • Mile 25: Big Ben
  • Mile 26: Buckingham Palace

And remember, it’s going to be a busy day in London so get there early if you can with a full phone battery.

Images: Alice Porter

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