This article titled “London Marathon 2011: Tutu much for some, while elsewhere rhinos run riot” was written by Karen McVeigh, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th April 2011 19.10 UTC
They donned rhino suits, pantomime dame costumes, tutus and other outfits fastened together with little more than gaffer tape and determination. They ran in sunlight to beat personal bests, for the buzz of it, to prove, for the no longer young, that they still could, and for the sheer joy of being part of the rolling street party that is the London Marathon. Behind the task that united thousands of athletes on Sunday was a myriad of personal challenges that made each gruelling step of their 26.2-mile course a deeper and richer experience.
Among them was PC David Rathband, the Northumbria police traffic officer blinded by gunman Raoul Moat, who said he used the memory of the attack to finish the race. “People will use whatever things they need to get them through pain barriers,” he said after passing the finish line.
Some carried their causes on the backs of their shirts, “For Uncle Ben” read one, “To Mum” another proclaimed. “You are coming along by the Embankment, the last few miles and you think, ‘I haven’t got far to go,'” said Mary Wilkins, 45, a teaching assistant from Weymouth, Dorset, who ran in memory of her late mother-in-law, Colleen. “But then it’s hot and the last two and a half miles seem impossible. So I said, ‘Come on mum, give me a push.’ I talked to her along the way and she helped me all the way to the finish.”
Paul Alderton, 48, an accountant from Bury St Edmunds, ran for his father, who died two years ago after suffering multiple sclerosis. Alderton, who has run the Berlin and Paris marathons, said: “You see the backs of all these other runners’ shirts and you see all the other runners who have lost people and it brings it home to you. I was originally dismissive of the charity aspect of it, but it’s part of the charm of London.”
The London Marathon attracts competitors from every corner of the globe and is second only to the Great North Run in terms of number of participants.
Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai won the men’s race in two hours, four minutes and 39 seconds, breaking the event’s record, while his compatriot Mary Keitany won the women’s race in 2:19.17. Britain’s David Weir came first in the wheelchair race. More than 36,500 runners were expected to complete the course.
Among those in unusual attire were a “royal couple” who ran in full wedding outfits and Will and Kate masks; someone dressed as Brian, the Magic Roundabout snail, and 10 runners in gigantic polypropylene rhino suits, to publicise Save The Rhino, during the wildlife charity’s biggest fundraising event of the year.
A spokesman for Guinness World Records said 28 records had been confirmed by 4pm. 156 runners were attempting 50 categories, ranging from “the fastest man juggling a football to the quickest marching band”.
Along the route, many supporters among the five-deep crowds could have passed for motivational professionals. People held aloft banners bearing messages such as “Sandhurst Joggers, Don’t Stop! Everbody’s Watching” and shouted the names of flagging souls they had never met but which were written for all to see on runners’ chests
At the last 800-metre mark, with Buckingham Palace in sight, massive cheers were reserved for those who stopped, then picked up their aching legs once more towards the finish.
Those who had competed in marathons in other cities spoke of an atmosphere – the noise, the music and the crowds – that they said made the London event feel special.
Duncan Oakes, 46, a builder from St Austell, Cornwall, completed his seventh marathon in 2 hours 45 minutes. He said the sound of the supporters, particularly over Tower Bridge, “makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up”. Under bridges on the route that looped its way west along the river Thames sat groups of drummers, their sound echoing along the streets.
While the largest age group was men in their 30s, there were octogenarians and teenagers, too. The oldest runner entered was Paul Freedman, from Hornchurch, Essex, who turned 87 on Sunday, and the oldest woman Iva Barr, 83. The youngest were Michael Bennett and Helen Nutter, both celebrating their 18th birthdays on race day.
The second largest age group was men in their 40s, who present the biggest risk of burnout, according to Virgin London Marathon’s medical director, Professor Sanjay Sharma. Speaking last week, the cardiologist said those most likely to run into trouble were men in their 40s who have run two or three marathons. “It tends to be high-achieving men who have a day job but who are good runners – probably ‘midlife crisis’ men who want to prove to themselves that they are still youthful.”
Dave Watchman, 40, from Redcar, North Yorkshire, who cheerfully admitted to being a “classic case”, said he had done a number of things to celebrate his last birthday, including being at the opening ceremony of the World Cup, but “this was better than any of them”.
Watchman, a franchising manager who beat his personal best at 3.45.51, said: “The heat was incredible, but it’s like a giant moving street party with different villages like Greenwich and Rotherhithe having different personalities. It sounds crass but you really feel like you’re going through villages and towns and all the people are coming out. “You spend your life watching the action but the London Marathon is one of the times you can be part of the action.”
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