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The Other Side of the London Marathon

When looking back in hindsight I was very lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer my services as a sports therapist at the London Marathon earlier this year.   After considering a number of different charities I chose Children with Cancer, they are renowned for looking after all fund raisers and volunteers as well as having the positive of providing all equipment for volunteers, not needing to cart my plinth or towels from Lincolnshire down to London was something which I later realised was a great positive, after witnessing and helping numerous other therapists manoeuvre their equipment around the underground. This year Banqueting House in Whitehall was the venue for the charity. Not only being a spectacular venue from the outside, its inside was something worthy of hosting something much greater than post race treatment. Upstairs was Rubens ceiling, this along with unbelievable architecture was the location for the food. The treatment would be set in the undercroft, the drinking den for James I. Shortly after arriving there was a team briefing, allowing us to prepare for the task in hand and make us feel most welcome; we were divided into a number of teams with 2 therapists to a bed, one to perform the treatment whilst the other kept constant communication with the runners. I can honestly say when I signed up that I never expected the scale of the operation at hand to be as big as it was, my expectations were  very much underestimated, apart from the numerous sports therapists who had volunteered, there were also GP’s, physiotherapists, podiatrists first responders and a number of people collecting runners at the finish line and showing them the way to Banqueting House, in total an 80 strong team had volunteered their services to support the 1,200 runners on the day. We then all went upstairs to eat; every person runners included had a hot meal provided for them with salad and fruit, the charity knew that 6 hours work would be tough and they prepared us well for what was to come, and they had every base covered.  Slowly everyone filtered downstairs to take their place in the undercroft, and perched next to their bed waiting for the runners to arrive. Anxiety turned into admiration as the first runner from Children for Cancer arrived, a rapturous applause followed as it did to every runner who arrived.  He strolled into the undercroft looking as cool as a cucumber, hardly even breaking a sweat – believe me, not everyone was this comfortable after completing the race.  As the afternoon passed,  a variety of people took up their place on my plinth and shared their own stories as to why they were completing the race, why the Children with Cancer charity and what it was really like completing the race. Most would nod when asked if it was their first Marathon, they would also reply with “and my last,” leading me to question was the year long training and numerous sacrifices made worth completing such an event? Two people though stick very vividly in my memory, the first was an American gentleman who had travelled all the way from Chicago to complete his first London Marathon, the stereotypical senior runner who had bags of experience, knew his limits and spoke as though every mile he completed his smile and appreciation for the event grew. He not only enjoyed the race but valued the occasion and the spirit of the race as the most fulfilling Marathon he had completed, and this coming from a gentleman who had finished all of the big Marathons bar the Berlin. The second, a typical cockney said he had run the course about 6 times in the past year, just to make sure he would do it. He was going straight down the pub to celebrate his success, that after he had taken a steady jog back the opposite way round as his flat was close to the start line and he wanted to save his underground fare home. I was shocked, not only had this guy completed the Marathon in a very respectable time but was going to double the distance running it back – pure madness. After the 6 hours I felt physically drained yet it couldn’t have been anything like what the runners would after completing the Marathon. The whole day is something I will never forget, even though I didn’t get to see any of the race itself. The train journey back to Peterborough was an experience itself, being stood up at the end of a carriage like sardines, but even then, sharing my experiences with people who had volunteered for different charities, ran the race and spectators was amazing. Will I volunteer my services again –YES, and the most frequently asked question from everyone all day – “Will I you run it next year?” No – But it’s something I want to complete at some point, it’s a once in a lifetime achievement and something to be really proud of completing.