Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hijacked! The London Marathon 2012

Several years ago I decided I wanted to run a marathon, living in England the obvious choice was the London Marathon being local and all, I entered the ballot and like many was unsuccessful on my first attempt. I applied on two more consecutive occasions and was eventually informed that upon the fifth time of begging I would automatically be given a place. This was not for me so I ceased applying for it.

However upon changing career a new world opened up to me, the world of running for charity was brought to my attention, something I had not previously considered as an option.  I sat and thought about who and what I wanted to run for and have since run and completed the New York Marathon in 2009 for Children with Leukaemia (now Children with Cancer) and the Berlin Marathon in 2011 for Macmillan Cancer Care. Both great causes and amazing cities at the same time.

Suddenly the allure of London did not seem the same.

Following Berlin I had completed two of the 'big 5' marathons. The others include London, Chicago and Boston, so I decided to seek a route into the London Marathon, making it three out of five and it also happened to be Olympic year too. I secured a place with the charity Asthma UK in January 2012 and started the long road of preparing for the 26.2 miles (42km) ahead of me in April.

Then something went wrong.

A couple of weeks after thinking I had secured a place in the marathon via Asthma UK I received an email when on the other side of the planet to say that there had been an issue with my registration. On my return I found that the charity had failed to registered me and as a result I would not be running the marathon this year. I rang any one and everyone I could to try and rectify the situation, including Virgin themselves, even tweeting Richard Branson, the resounding answer I received was "NO".

I was told that I could be Haile Gebrselassie and I could not get a place once the cut off date set by Virgin had passed.

So I resigned myself to the fact that this year I would have to settle for a place on the sidelines cheering on my partner from a designated cheer point as she strode along London Bridge and ceased my training. Once the feeling of disappointment subsided I focused my attentions on supporting my partner in the gruelling training schedule ahead of her, undertaking the odd training run, somewhat satisfied in the knowledge that it would not be my legs that suffered on the Monday morning after the event.

As the weeks went by and race day approached I started to feel a little more disappointed in the fact that I had been let down and was not unable to compete. Then, with ten days to go it hit me, if London was like any of the other marathons I had run previously then I would be able to join in anywhere on the route.

Operation 'Hijack the London Marathon' was conceived.

Initially I planned to find out where my partner would be starting from and arrange to meet her somewhere just after the start and join in, then it occurred to me that if I had a race number I would probably be able to just walk through the gate and into the main start area. We just had to wait to attend the expo, on Saturday April 21st, the day before the marathon. We headed to London for the expo first thing in the morning and secured the running number, grabbed a Starbucks and returned straight back home to the editors cove, where I photoshopped the race number and changed it around. I printed this on A4 paper and had myself and unofficial race number. Nothing was going to stop me now.

An unusually late night followed considering we were running 26.2 miles the next day but for some reason I think nerves had begun to set in; would I get in to the holding area or would I have to join in further along the start somewhere? Or would I get dragged off by police as the boat race saboteur had a few days earlier? We would not know until the morning.

Due South, 0700hrs
At 0600hrs we awoke and started the journey to Greenwich, even at this early hour the underground was packed with runners and their families, the train was filled with a mixture of deep heat and Vaseline that made it smell more like a sporting locker room rather than the capitals main travel hub. When we arrived at our final destination the sun had begun to shine and the temperature began to rise. As we walked through the park there were a number of signs stating 'runners only beyond this point', loved ones said their good luck and good journey goodbyes, sealing it with a kiss and went their separate ways. As we arrived at the entrance gates there were actors (security personnel) barking orders at the humans "no number, no access" and volunteer Virgin race marshals. I had already attached my unofficial number to my running vest before leaving for London and strategically veered towards the volunteer marshals... and waltzed straight though and into the holding pen. I was in, race on.

All that stood in front of me now was the small feat of 26.2 miles and the fact that I had stopped training two months ago.

The race started well and was largely enjoyable as the weather was good, so the crowds came out, not quite the 29 degrees in Berlin last September, but warm enough for one to build up a sweat. This caused a problem with my running number, being printed on regular A4 paper it got soggy and started to tear. The rush job of putting it together meant that I had not managed to print it on any sort of water proof paper, if you have ever seen or felt a real race number you will know it is not normal paper. It was the best I could do with the time I had.
I tried to place it on me in various places to try and mitigate the damage being done by water from drinks bottles and sweat but to no avail, I also resisted the temptation to tear it off in frustration, this was perhaps the best decision I have made all year.

On the home straight the people from Marathonfoto appeared along the sides of the streets, taking pictures of runners in various poses, those of us that still had the energy to pose that is, proudly displaying their race numbers so that they could collect them a few days after the race. I turned to my partner and said how I could not wait to see the '385 yards to go' sign as by this point my legs were hating me for not having prepared them more. As we approached the sign a race marshal appeared out of nowhere, telling the runners that they had to display their numbers or have a foot tag. I now faced a big problem because obviously I did not have a foot tag and my race number was in bits and pieces in my pouch.

He ran right along side me and told me that without a tag or race number it was "not going to happen" and so he started to point to the side of the track for me. I reassured him I had my number but that it was in my pouch. As I pulled it out he just said "no, they are designed not to do that".

My number was hardly legible and had torn in a number of places.

The finish line was in sight, but this marshal was about to end my race with 300 yards to go, I could not believe it, my partner unsurprisingly had distance herself from me and left me to it. I tried to explain that it was not my fault that the weather had been so warm and that I had been clumsy with my drinks bottles and torn it in the process of moving it around my person etc but he was not buying my story and sprinted towards what was the senior race marshal, and ordered me to follow him, adding more distance to my already tired legs.

As I ran on towards the senior race marshal I could see a lot of finger pointing and gesturing going on, I began to wonder if I had enough gas left in my legs to make a sprint for the finish line but I realised this may result in being rugby tackled on the concrete, something I was keen to avoid, so I continued over towards the side of the track and thought my valiant effort was over. In my head I could hear it now "you ran 26 miles? I thought a marathon was 26.2 miles". Luck it seems was on my side, as I got to the senior marshal he just pointed and told me to head to the lost tag aisle.

I did not see where this was and took it as my chance to sprint off and cross the finish line.

I rejoined my partner who suddenly remember who I was and we finished together, relieved that I was allowed to finish at all. I walked straight through the finish area, collecting my medal and post race bag, and did not look back in case the race marshal had decided to follow me. We had done it.

Gold is the colour, photoshopped number.
A couple of days later and my legs have forgiven me for putting them through hell and more importantly they have forgiven my partner for encouraging me to act in an 'unsane' manner. Why anyone would wilfully put their body through the trauma of a marathon, just to see if they could gate crash it, is beyond most people who I have told the story to so far. The drama that unfolded in the last 300 yards just made it all the more worthwhile for me.

All I can say is this, that sitting here now I am already considering my next marathon. The problem  is pain does not last and when it is gone all you are left with are the memories of your achievements. Having secured a place only to have it taken from me due to an error in administration was hard to take, I was not prepared to miss out on the opportunity, so I took a leaf out of Richard Branson's book and thought outside the box to solve my problem.

London Marathon route, 27 miles, zig zagging inclusive.


  1. Top man, well done. Hijacking the London Marathon has to be up there with the best of them.

  2. Awesome job, could we set up a team for next year and find someone who can help us copy a genuine race number?