Volunteers gear up for a ‘big day’ as a staple of the London Marathon
The London Marathon will see more than 40,000 runners return to the streets of the capital on Sunday, but the event could not take place without thousands of volunteers.
Those who dispense drinks and guide spectators do not receive a medal at the end of their long and tiring day, many just enjoying being part of the annual celebration of human achievement.
Carl Woffington, 73, of Wokingham, near Reading, has volunteered for every London Marathon since the event began in 1981, except last year when he watched it on TV as the Coronavirus restrictions meant only elite athletes competed in the downtown area.
He knew event founders Chris Brasher and John Disley from orienteering and offered to help when they asked for volunteers to make sure the runners were on the correct route.
“There weren’t any bibs or lanyards or anything formal at the time, we just came around the corner and waved the runners through,” the certified engineer told retirement.
Mr Woffington, who supplies the Reading Roadrunners marshals, never wanted to organize the event himself: “Before the London Marathon started, the people running the streets were ‘idiots’, there are some. had very little.
“And then there was a really big boom in America for jogging. And it happened in Britain and from that boom in America, modern marathons like New York and London, they all came after that.
“But I ran my marathons before this running boom.”
Mr Woffington is responsible for the area at mile 23, where runners pass the Tower of London for the second time, and he said people often give up their bank cards and train tickets when they pull out their phones for a selfie .
A marshal even reunited a runner with his wedding ring after it fell from his finger during the race.
Mr Woffington, who led a team of marshals at the London 2012 Olympics, said: ‘Finally, I guess I have to stop, don’t I? But for now, I can still do it. It has been a big part of my life.
Simon Turton, 55, of Twyford, near Reading, ran the London Marathon three times in the early 1990s and has been coordinating volunteers for around 20 years after getting involved through the British Airways Athletics Club. He works in engineering as a technical team leader for the Boeing 777.
“I was more than happy to have had the opportunity to run, I did what I wanted to accomplish, but no, I don’t want to do the marathon now.
“I really like helping. And it’s great to put something back into the sport that we’ve taken so much away from.
“I always tell my assistants, I think this is the second after the organization of the event.”
Mr Turton is Area Manager for Victoria Embankment and Team Leader for the Disley Shuttles, the five level crossings that allow pedestrians to cross roads like Birdcage Walk without disturbing runners.
He said that preparation, organization and collaboration make the London Marathon special: “Those who participate in it don’t need to know all of this, but it is important and it makes the marathon what it is. .
“There will be fewer people this year, it discourages the spectators, the runners are encouraged to minimize the number of people who come to support them.
“So I think Covid means a lot that we expect numbers to drop, but a drop for the right reasons. “
Like runners, those helping in the London Marathon must show a negative result on the lateral flow test (LFT) for the coronavirus.
Mr Turton said: “It is so important for these mass events to convey that we always want them to be fun and enjoyable, but they also have to be safe in the current climate.”
The runners might have a “slightly different” experience this year, he said: “But that doesn’t mean it will be worse or better. It will just be different, but I’m sure from my long experience with the marathon you will have a great day.
“I spend most of the day smiling at people. In the end, all my cheeks hurt and it’s a sign of a good day.
Jasmine Flatters, 68, of Newbury, Berkshire, joined the Datchet Dashers running club with her husband “in the ’80s running boom” and went to see other club members compete in the London Marathon .
She loved the experience, volunteered at a friend’s beverage station the following year, and hasn’t stopped helping ever since.
“In 1987, I directed it. And it was fantastic too, ”she said.
“There is a lot of training. I mean, to do it justice, you really need to go the miles. I wouldn’t do it again. No, I would much prefer to be on the side of the fence where I am.
Ms Flatters, who worked at the London 2012 Olympics and was appointed MBE for Triathlon Services, likes her Lucozade Sport team to have fun: “If we have free time before the main riders pass, I organize a little race station. So it’s like a little race.
“And then once that’s done, I ask my volunteers to line up on either side of the road, and we start making Mexican waves.
“But once the runners start to go by, you know, you can’t really stop.”
Ms. Flatters’ team was joined by brand ambassadors such as Jonny Wilkinson, James Cracknell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chris Robshaw, Leigh Halfpenny and Richie Gray.
This year, runners will receive a cup rather than a bottle of Lucozade Sport as part of efforts to reduce waste from the event.
“My experience with the bottles is that people just take two or three sips and then they throw, you know, 90% of the bottle on the ground, which is a terrible waste of product and plastic,” Ms. Flatters.
“So we did a test two years ago with mugs actually. And it seems to be working really well.
“You don’t want to drink gallons of fluid, you just need a little.”
Lucozade Sport’s last station is now 21 miles off the 26.2 mile course and Ms Flatters said: “We’re going to make sure they’re pushed for those last few miles with a big smile on our faces.”