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London From a Unique Viewpoint

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Article from Athletics Weekly Magazine by Marie Yates, UK Athletics Senior Coordinator for Disability Athletics

 

 

 

 

21 April 2008

 

 

 

One of the real perks of my job working in athletics is the differing events and roles I have held in varying capacities. I may work for UKA, but as we all know in athletics you often wear more than one hat.

 

Therefore, as an avid armchair fan of the London Marathon, a long held ambition finally became reality last weekend when I had the opportunity to work with the event organisers on the various elements of the wheelchair race (London Marathon organise the event in partnership with Disability Sport Events – DSE), and also the development of the Mini Wheelchair Marathon, organised by Michelle Weltman.

 

Instead of curled up on my sofa watching the BBC coverage on Sunday morning, I got to see the marathon from a completely different perspective, which allowed me to get an insight into the immense amount of work that goes in to staging the event. I was fortunate to watch the race itself riding pillion on one of the course motorbikes.

 

My role on the day involved ensuring that the wheelchair racers and the elite male runners didn’t collide in the early stages of the race, and the first job once we’d arrived at the start of the race was to find a motorbike complete with a rider who knew what needed to be done.

 

I was introduced to a biking genius – who I am embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even manage to catch his name such was the madness of the occasion – I shall call him biker-man for now. Biker-man, who knew the course inside out, knew exactly how to position us so we could shout instructions at the racers, and runners as the race developed, to ensure that nobody was either in the path of the lead van or about to be trampled on by the elite men!

 

Biker man also knew the best places to stop so we could get amazing views of the race, was full of fascinating marathon facts and thought it was amusing to drive us through the showers on the route, despite this – he is living proof that the race wouldn’t survive without the dedication and expertise of its volunteers.

 

So, we rode ahead of the lead van shouting clear instructions to focused racers and runners who were soon to be passed by the elite men, and we were amazed at how many cheers we were getting. Of course if we had a pound for every time somebody shouted ‘you’re cheating’ I’d be retiring a very rich person right now.

 

The atmosphere was incredible the whole way around, but for me the defining moment was an experience that money just can’t buy, riding on an empty road approaching Tower Bridge, with the sun shining and either side completely packed with supporters waiting to see the elite field, cheer on all the racers and runners and waving banners to give a boost to family and friends.

 

There is something about the Flora London Marathon that brings out the best in people, no matter what role you play in its success you can’t help but be inspired. From Biker-man, to the start and finish volunteers, the volume of supporters as well as the thousands of people who race each year is testament to this.

 

From my sofa position in previous years I have always thought it to be a special event, and from my weekend’s work, I now realise it to be totally exceptional.