Freeze column 38,500 in marathon in London

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2012

The next part of my trip to London is focused on running the marathon, considered one of only five world class marathons. The others are New York City, Berlin, Boston, and Chicago.
I got to do multiples of NYC and Boston, but have so far missed Berlin and Chicago. After the helpful assistance of several London residents, I took the tube (subway) to a pick-up point for the bus to London Bridge, followed by a train to Blackheath.
The 38,500 official runners and several thousand more planning to jump in to run made this the biggest crowd I had ever seen at a race. As we left the train, I remember thinking that this is like a solemn funeral procession. Few words were spoken by anyone, and the only coversations were low-key and in hushed tones. High temperatures were expected for the day and free bottled water was available everywhere, adding to the uncertainty.
The race finally started, but it took me six minutes to reach the official start. From the start to mile 16, the race was run almost entirely on old streets which were usually narrow and crowded. Lots of costumed runners and millions of spectators, along with almost constant entertainment, made for a fun experience.
Temperatures did rise to about 80 near the end of the marathon. Along the way, water started to become scarce to the runners at some aid stations. Small bottles of water were given out early, and the demand was so strong that new supplies often didn’t arrive in time. This was the only time that I have seen runners look for previously discarded bottles of water, hoping that some of the water remained.
Highlights along the course were running under the Tower Bridge, across and along the Thames (pronounced Tims) River and a spectacular finish right in front of Buckingham Palace. I loved it all, though it was my slowest marathon ever. This time it was just about the experience, not just the finishing time. I ate a whole veggie pizza that night and soon felt pretty good again.
The 2012 Olympic Marathon will actually start and finish on the mall area near the palace. The course will be a series of loops that will pass by the Tower of London, the Thames, Big Ben and Parliament.
The next day, day six of the trip, was going to be my last full day in London. I got up and went for a very painful 30 minute “limp,” hardly resembling a run. My goal for the morning was to walk across the Thames and ride the “Eye,” a well known attraction that provides an all-weather view of the old city. Just imagine a tall Ferris wheel of all glass, and a remarkable, slow ride. It was about $10 to ride, and I thought it well worth the cost.
Leaving the “Eye” with no particular destination in mind, I stumbled on the site of the Queen’s Horse Guards. They were preparing for their processional to the palace to replace the group currently on duty. Once they left, I hustled to Buckingham Palace hoping to catch the “Changing of the Guard,” the one done on foot. Thousands crowded the area, but the guard changing didn’t happen. One tourist explained they had tried to catch it several times, but couldn’t figure it out.
Close by was the Victoria Train Station, similar to Penn Station or Grand Central in New York City. It had plenty of food available at reasonable costs and thousands hurrying on their way to either depart by train or having just arrived. Being a “people watcher,” I just sat and watched the ongoing parade for quite awhile, wondering about their individual stories.
Heading back toward my room, I stopped at the Museum of London. It was an amazing, free collection of exhibits concerning London history. There were displays of life during the Great Plague, the Great Fire and Roman times in London. While a good crowd milled about, I was convinced that the bigger tourists traps of various wax museums got much more attention. Just outside the museum was an example of the Roman wall that used to surround old London. Imagine a brick wall built 1,000 years ago, and portions of it still stand.
A few highlights remained for that day. I actually saw a guy considering jumping off the Millenium Bridge over the Thames. The police, or bobbies, ran the spectators away. Very shortly afterwards, I witnessed a gang confrontation while using an Internet café. Internet cafes were popular with tourists and very reasonable at about a British pound per hour. Finally, I stopped by a neighborhood grocery and bought a bunch of marked down things just before they closed for a bargain of about $6.
Part 3 comes next. I have a visit to the English countryside and spend some time with an old friend from home.