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After 889 days, it is time for the return of the London Marathon

By Polly Warrack
30 September 2021

By Polly Warrack

This Sunday - 889 days since it last took place - the Virgin Money London Marathon returns to the streets of the capital. Whether you count it as 26.219 miles, 42.195 kilometres, or eight parkruns with a bit extra on the end – you would absolutely be forgiven for asking who on earth would want to complete one. The answer, it would seem, is lots of people - this year’s event is set to include a record 50,000 runners, with a further 50,000 due to take part virtually. To my increasing horror and excitement, I will be one of them.

Now, this is not my first marathon – so I really do have nobody to blame but myself – but even with the benefit of a few years of experience, I’m not always entirely clear on why I keep going back for more. Without putting too fine a point on it, a marathon and the training required to finish it is completely exhausting and entirely consuming. Think you have a balanced lifestyle with just enough time for friends, work and hobbies? Not anymore you don’t. Now you only have training, thinking about training, talking about training, panicking about training and eating bread. Other carbohydrates are available.

Still. Can 100,000 people be wrong? Without doing a deep dive into any infamous polling results, let’s pretend the answer is no, in which case there must be something more to marathons than misery and spaghetti.

And this is the thing – there is so much more.

Marathons are life-affirming. They can transform your view of the world around you and of your power and place within that world. They are the very definition of Type 2 Fun and carte blanche to become your local bakery’s best customer. To train for a marathon and do all that is required of you - wake up obscenely early, not because you have dependants mandating that you feed them, but just to get your run in before work, go for a run at the end of a long day, say no to a drink because you have a long run the next day, or just to get carried away regardless and then have to do said long run with a stonking hangover, and do all this in the knowledge that you’re not going to be troubling any podium ands that it is literally just determination and pride in yourself that is driving you on – is to believe that there is a tomorrow, and that that tomorrow has potential and possibility. This latter point has been crucial for me and the many others who find solace and headspace with a pair of trainers since the start of the first lockdown. There is so much more to the marathon because they make you realise there is so much more in you.

2020 would have held the fortieth anniversary of the London Marathon. Like most of 2020, and much of 2021, it was cancelled in its original form, before later taking place as an elite-only race and a virtual mass-participation event. Some people will have been training for this event since January of last year, while others will have done a shorter, but no less exhausting, training block of twelve to sixteen weeks. This Sunday - 889 days since it last took place – some 50,000 runners will set out to run the final 26.2 miles of a race they have spent hundreds of miles preparing for.

Finally, if you are in London and unsure of what to do with yourself on Sunday, then I will leave you with the words of an icon of women’s running, Katherine Switzer: "if you're ever losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon."

If you do and find yourself tempted to enter the ballot for next year, well, I can’t say I blame you -although don’t say I didn’t warn you. Time to carb load.