#MyVLM. The 2011 Virgin London Marathon & my piece of the BIG WEEKEND! Why IS London #1?

Deborah Evans’ poem in Virgin area display at the Expo: captures the spirit of London Marathon

Where were you on the BIG WEEKEND, April 17th-18th, 2011?

Race Director, Dave Bedford, who has built London into arguably "The World's Greatest Race" over the last decade.

 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!

Non-stop action entering contest to "Win a Trip for 2 to STWM11" at our "stand" at VLM Expo 2011

#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.

Tower Bridge from my hotel room on arrival, Tuesday night.

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!

"Showcasing the brands". The Lucozade stand at VLM Expo, complete with CNN-type touch-screen display of Course!

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!

Getting started. Vicky at our "posh" stand on Wednesday morning at VLM Expo in prime location.

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.

Vicky & Jade working hard at the STWM "stand". LOTS of visitors, lots of questions about T.O. and the race.

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”!

Fauja Singh, aged 100 years, in front of his picture at STWM stand, of his 5:40:04 WR run at STWM 2003

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!”   

"Poster girl" Helen Williams of Bristol in front of her picture in our STWM booth display

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.  

Me, on right, with AIMS President Paco Borao and friend, at Reception on "Silver Sturgeon" boat on Thames.

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!

Champions Mary Keitany and Emmanuel Mutai flank RD Dave Bedford at London 2011 Press Conference

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)

"London Pride", the official Beer. There's a LOT on display over VLM weekend, and not just the kind you find in the bottle!

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!

Shelter, just one of the hundreds of charities that put so much into the London Marathon, and get more than £50 million out of it!

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!   

Costumes and charity runners, who comprise one-third of the field, are one of the things that make London special

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?!”

"Marvellous Mutai" and happy Manager, Michel Boeting after the race, at the Press Centre

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One Response to #MyVLM. The 2011 Virgin London Marathon & my piece of the BIG WEEKEND! Why IS London #1?

  1. Nigel Lloyd says:

    Great write up of your visit to London. As ever it is great to see you have we really been doing this for 8 years – I always look forward to seeing your friendly face and hearty hand shake at the expo and one of the magic things about it is not only the ‘running show’ but a meeting place for new and old friends, and it sets the stage for a great athletic weekend whether your are running it or not, it gets you into that spirit of running and to me that is what the sport is about…….As I always say Alan “see you in the same place same time in 2012”

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