Friday, April 27, 2007

Streets of London

Why run a big city marathon, like the Flora London Marathon for example? Well, one of the reasons must be for the sights. Running past historic buildings and world-renowned landmarks must be inspiring and give a boost to the runner's mental spirits and aching legs, wouldn't you think?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, it's true that the London Marathon route passes the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Tower of London, London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and finishes in The Mall. It is never far from the River Thames and there are glimpses also of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Monument and the Millennium Dome.

But it's also true that much of the route passes through some of the more drab parts of London, especially some relatively poor housing areas to the east of the city. And although the route is close to the river, you only cross the river once and for most of the route the river is not visible.

This is how I remember the sights of the city during my jaunt around the streets of London last Sunday...

I have to say that the first six miles or so were somewhat lacking in architectural merit. Time to try and settle in to a steady pace and not think too much about the heat. Probably just as well that there weren't too many visual distractions in Charlton and Woolwich.

Then it was into Greenwich past the Royal Naval Hospital, the National Maritime Museum and try not to trip over the prime meridian. As a sailor it would have been a thrill to run past the Cutty Sark if it were not almost completely hidden from view by fences during its restoration. Ah well, I've seen it before so I can conjure up the memories.

Then another long stretch through the Surrey docklands. But those tedious miles surely caused me to appreciate even more one of the highlights of the course, the crossing of Tower Bridge. Running through the first tower and on to the bridge which was crammed full of cheering crowds, seeing the River Thames and the Tower of London... Man, I was so moved I almost forgot to look out for the locations of the TV cameras and give them a wave. Hi Mum!

What a stroke of genius by John Wolfe Barry to site his new bridge near the half-way mark of the London Marathon. After all those featureless miles through south London, the old TB gave me a much-needed boost. (And thank god they didn't need to raise the roadway to let any ships through on Sunday.)

But then it was back into more mundane territory heading east towards the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. According to the official route description some of the highlights of this section include the entrance to a road tunnel, a traffic light tree, and the area where Henry VIII used to keep his hunting dogs. I could hardly contain my excitement as I trudged past these stupendous wonders of the world.

Canary Wharf was kind of spectacular if you like skyscrapers. Europe's second tallest building (Wow!!) was mainly appreciated for providing some shade from the brutal rays of the sun. And then as I passed the new Billingsgate Fish Market (Double Wow!!) I had a strangely disorienting experience.

I have written before about how I have an uncanny sense of direction. (Except when I am lost). So I was sure I was running on the north side of the River Thames, in a more-or-less northerly direction, a mile or so away from the river. When I suddenly saw in front of me the roof of what looked like the Millennium Dome. What!! That's on the south bank, downstream of here. It can't be the dome. Maybe it's something else that's a bit like the dome?

Of course it was the dome. I was really running east and had forgotten that the river curves to the north on this stretch, so I was actually looking across to the south bank of the river. I was definitely starting to get confused here after three hours and over fifteen miles in the heat. And my pace slowed down too.

Then it was back west along the city streets where the only vaguely inspiring sight was to see the marathon tailenders still heading east about seven miles behind us. Amazing -- there are folk running even more slowly than I am.

And then into the best stretch of the route for sightseeing with most of the major sights of the route concentrated in the last four miles or so. Tower Bridge and the Tower of London; glimpses of St. Paul's and the Monument; the London Eye -- what brilliant audacity to build the world's biggest Ferris wheel across the river from the Houses of Parliament! And there they were, the home of British democracy and sauce bottle icon, the good old H-of-P tantalizingly close ahead of us on the Embankment. By now I was pretty much running on empty as I walked most of mile 25. But as I turned the corner and passed Big Ben it tolled the hour for me. That familiar resonant bong-bong-bong gave me a boost of energy as I found the will to run the final mile.

Left into Birdcage Walk, the crowds cheering louder and louder, and then there it was -- Buckingham Palace. I was never so pleased to see Mrs Windsor's town home as I rounded the corner towards the finish line. Quick check to make sure that I'm not going to be photographed crossing the finish line with a fairy or a rhino, and then stagger across the line waving arms like a maniac for the cameras.

Yeah, I guess the sights do make a big city marathon pretty special. But the best sight of all, waiting for me at the meeting point, was Tillerwoman. Thanks dear.


Mondale said...

Bloody Marvellous Guv! Well done!

Anonymous said...

I can picture it all. The mass of runners coming across Tower Bridge, the endless run around the Isle of Dogs - Luuuuuuvvly. I know hwat you mean about the disorientation. Whenever I took a river boat to Greenwhich it was very confusing. Back across the cobbles at the Tower (how those knees), then the best stretch down the Embankment. Round Parliament Sq, Birdcage Walk and sown the Mall. Great post Tillerman. Made me homesick

Anonymous said...

Awesome, kudos to you!

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

Did you catch the bus? I only run to catch buses! I don't catch buses often. Too bloody slow!

Joking aside; Well done!

bonnie said...

Fantastic! Great writeup too.

How peculiar to read about the burning rays of the London sun.

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