Where were you on the BIG WEEKEND, April 17th-18th, 2011?
Like CityTV, our CRS Team were working hard to be “Everywhere”! Almost all of the crew were in Montreal for Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal, the Canadian Half marathon Championships and race #3 of CRS2011. Rhea and Lesley were staffing our STWM booth and representing us in Boston. And I was the “Lone Ranger” flying into London. I was definitely a man with divided loyalties, missing the team in Montreal and American friends in Boston, but enjoying the excitement of London, which also holds a special place for me. “The world” goes to London. And while RD Dave Bedford is never a shrinking violet when it comes to labelling the Virgin London Marathon “The World’s Greatest Race” – like Mohammed Ali, he may just be right!
To me, London is the “complete” race. All of the top flight marathons have outstanding organization, that’s a given. But London seems to lead the leading pack in a number of other key elements: the Expo; the perennial “Championship-style” quality and depth of the professional athlete race; the charity, costume and festive factor; the hospitality. As always, this year didn’t disappoint!
#MyVLM week began with the Expo. I flew into LHR at 9pm last Tuesday, and got to Race HQ at the Tower Hotel by 11pm, with a great room overlooking the Thames this year, very kindly arranged by London Marathon CEO, Nick Bitel. Straight to bed, despite the view, as the world’s only 4-day Expo beckoned Wednesday morning.
Not only is London the world’s largest Expo, it is “leading edge”. For at least the past 8 years I’ve been attending, it’s been the class of the league. It deliberately aims to be “The Running Show”. All the leading brands are there, with LARGE, professional “stands” [aka booths]: with adidas, Nike, Asics, New Balance, Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno, Garmin, Timex, title sponsor “Virgin Money”, and more vying to have the greatest show, to wow us with their latest and greatest. [How many of the Canadian “brands” have figured out how to do this? I’d say only TWO!!]. The “brands” then act like “anchor-tenants” in the show. Smaller booths, often charities, fill-in inbetween, and all stands have “shell-scheme”, hard-wall set-up rather than pipe and drape. The whole Expo is carpeted. This is everyone’s first contact with VLM. And instantly, you’re on the red carpet, something very special and exciting is unfolding! This is in contrast to traditional North American Expos that have functioned more as flea market, “rag & bag” shows!
Significantly, New York has switched to the London model over the last few years, to showcase the very best, latest & greatest of our sport. I’m pleased to say it’s an approach we’ve fervently embraced at STWM!
Thanks to yeoman duty on our STWM stand in London from Vicky and Jade, I survived the 38-hour London Expo, met lots of Brits, gathered more than 2,500 ballots for our “Win a Trip for 2 to STWM” contest with Canadian Affair, and had some memorable moments. Check out the professional look of the STWM booth and the flurry of activity in the photos.
LOTS of visitors! 100-year-old Fauja Singh stopped by on the Friday morning, and pledged his commitment to come run STWM 2011 on October 16th, “God willing”!
On Saturday morning, London RD Dave Bedford brought the entire IAAF Road Running Commission to say “hello”. Chair, Sean Wallace-Jones also told us he’ll also be coming to our race in person this Fall – the first time I think the IAAF has come from Monaco to a Canadian road race other than a Championships. Mike Nishi from Chicago dropped by; Tad Hayano, RD from Tokyo, and Endo with the Osaka Marathon gang stopped to visit; Mara Carraro from Venice and Arpad Kosics from Budapest. Duff McLaren from the Beaches Running Club dropped by. So did Nigel Lloyd from Birmingham & Penny Moreton from Ulverston, plus many of our UK friends. Helen Williams from Bristol posed for a photo in front of her pic in the booth display. And there was lots of “English spoken” at the booth! As one “bloke” responded when asked if he wanted to fill out a ballot to win a trip to T.O.: “Nay lad, the missus runs. I go t’t pub!”
I must confess that Vicky and Jade let me sneak away early on Friday to go to the Elite Athlete Reception on the Silver Sturgeon boat on the Thames. I took Duff McLaren, as one of our fine neighbourhood Ambassadors for STWM, and I think he had a good time meeting Constantina Dita, Martin Lel, and some of the other talent on show. It’s always a marvellous evening, a gathering of stars and old friends – part of the unrivalled hospitality that London does throughout the weekend. The world goes to London Marathon, and London welcomes us all with British warmth of hospitality.
As for the race itself, whacked out from the Expo, I had the luxury of watching it all from the Media Centre in the Tower Hotel, large screens of both men’s and women’s races, constant updates, NO commercials, up close and personal for the day. No more so than when all the top finishers come in for the post-race Conference, with RD Dave Bedford, brought from the finish area by boat to us in the Tower Hotel. It’s a wonderful atmosphere, watching every step, every move, surrounded by the top running journalists, other Race Directors and Athlete Managers who all know what’s going on! My morning was shared sitting next to good friend Jo Schindler, RD of the Frankfurt Marathon, watching, tweeting, trying to keep in touch with Montreal as well as London!
This was Dave Bedford’s last year as RD, as supreme head of the empire he has built at London Marathon. So it was only fitting that the sun shone, and we got some more of the outstanding races and performances that London seems to produce annually. You only have to see the YouTube clip of Emmanuel Mutai finishing, followed by the sprint for 2ndplace between the Comeback Veteran, Martin Lel and Patrick Makau to catch the BUZZ! Mutai’s 2:04:40 was London’s first 2:04. As Bedford said, “a 2:05 is very good. But the 2:04 was important for us.” And the women’s race proved everything about London’s depth, “Championship-quality” races and more. Mary Keitany ran the fastest women’s time since 2005, and a gob-smacking 18 women ran under 2:28! “I’ve done a lot over the years,” said Bedford. “It all came together this year. It did London very proud!” (Results & Report)
But London excels at so much more than just the Professional Athletes’ race. This year, there were 34,705 finishers, including our own Beaches Runner, STWM Pacer, Duff McLaren in 4:49:21; and former CRS Team member, Tim Phelan, now Running Manager Europe, Africa, Middle East for Nike based in Amsterdam, who did it for a bar-room bet in 3:23:16. Fully 1/3 of the runners ran for a charity, the other stupendous feature that makes London #1. Last year, £51 million was raised; this year will be more when the counting is done. EVERYWHERE, the charities are visible, starting at the Expo where they display in force!
They are very much part of the Grand Scheme Dave Bedford has built. And they got full mention in the final post-race Press Conference from the RD himself. Besides the money, 33 Guinness World Records were set in this year’s race, and most of the costume runners were going the distance for charities. “Now I’m just going to mention a few of these,” said Bedford. “I promise I’m not going to roll my eyes and I don’t want you to!” “Fastest marathon in a Superhero costume!” For this, David Stone ran 2:42:46. “It was great out there,” he said. “Everyone was shouting go Superman and putting their arms up in the air. It was absolutely brilliant!”. Bedford continued. “Fastest marathon in a nurses uniform (female). Fastest marathon in a nurses uniform (male). Fastest marathon dressed as a fairy (female & male). Fastest marathon wearing a gas mask (3:54:55).” At this point the eyes rolled, and the room exploded into laughter!
It was that kind of joyous weekend, first to last. And perhaps that excellence, that community engagement and London pride, that joy and achievement across the board, is what makes Dave Bedford’s Virgin London Marathon the best of the best. The last smile, we’ll leave for Emmanuel Mutai’s Manager, Michel Boeting from Holland, an avid tweeter, who summed up the 2011 super-show: “Marvellous Mutai’s win made me smile. The Japanese pronouncing bottle as ‘butthole’ made me laugh!” And that’s maybe London’s magic recipe – bringing the running world together, and giving us a giggle, as well as outstanding athletics, and the largest one-day fundraising event in the world. “You’ve gotta ‘av a giggle guv, don’tcha?!”