The London Marathon will see more than 40,000 runners return to the capital’s street’s on Sunday but the event could not happen without thousands of volunteers.
People who hand out drinks or shepherd spectators don’t receive a medal at night. Many just enjoy the annual celebration of human achievements.
Carl Woffington, aged 73, is from Wokingham near Reading and has participated in every London Marathon since 1981. Last year, however, he was unable to watch it live on TV because of coronavirus restrictions that meant that only elite athletes could compete in the city’s centre.
He knew the event’s founders Chris Brasher and John Disley through orienteering and offered to help when they asked for volunteers to make sure runners took the right route.
“There were no bibs or cordons or anything formal back then, we just turned up on the corner and waved runners past,”The retired chartered engineer said this.
Mr Woffington supplies marshals for Reading Roadrunners but has never wanted the opportunity to run it. “Before London Marathon started, people who ran in the streets were ‘idiots’, there were very few.
“And then there was a very big boom in America for jogging. And it came across to Britain and from that boom in America, the modern marathons like New York and London, they all sprung up after that.
“But I actually ran my marathons before that running boom.”
Mr Woffington manages mile 23. He said that runners often pass the Tower of London twice.
A marshal even helped a runner reunite his wedding rings after it was lost during the race.
Woffington was the leader of a team marshals for the London 2012 Olympics. “Eventually I suppose I’ve got to stop haven’t I? But at the moment I still manage to do it. It’s been a big part of my life.”
Simon Turton (55), a Twyford resident near Reading, has run the London Marathon three consecutive times. He also coordinated volunteers for 20 years, having been involved through British Airways Athletics Club. As the technical team leader for the Boeing 777, he works in engineering.
“I was more than happy that I had the opportunity to run, I did what I wanted to achieve, but, no, I haven’t got an urge to do the marathon now.
“I really do enjoy helping. And it’s great to put something back into the sport that we’ve got so much out from.
“I always say to my helpers, I think it’s second to running the event.”
Mr Turton is the sector manager for Victoria Embankment, and the team leader for Disley Shuttles. These five box crossings allow pedestrians to cross roads like Birdcage walk without disturbing the runners.
He claimed that the London Marathon is unique because of its preparation, organization and collaboration. “Those who take part, they don’t need to know all that, but it’s important and it makes the marathon what it is.
“There’ll be less people this year, they’re discouraging spectators, runners are being encouraged to minimise the number of people that come to support them.
“So I think Covid very much will mean we’re expecting numbers to be down, but down for the right reasons.”
As runners, all those who help at the London Marathon must show a negative LFT result for coronavirus.
Mr Turton stated: “It’s so important for these mass events to convey that we still want them to be fun and enjoyable but they’ve got to be safe in the current climate as well.”
Runners might have a running experience that is memorable. “a bit different”This year, he stated: “But it doesn’t mean it’ll be any worse or any better. It will just be different, but I’m sure from my long experience with the marathon, you’ll just have a great day.
“I spend most of the day just smiling at people. By the end of it all my cheeks hurt and it’s the sign of a good day.”
Jasmine Flatters (68), a Newbury, Berkshire woman, joined the Datchet Dashers Running Club with her husband “in the running boom of the 80s”I went to see some of my club members take part in the London Marathon.
She loved the experience, volunteered at a friend’s drinks station the following year and has been helping ever since.
“In 1987 I actually ran it. And that was fantastic as well,”She spoke.
“There’s an awful lot of training. I mean, to do it justice, you really do need to put the miles in. I wouldn’t do it again. No, I’d much rather be on the side of the fence that I am on.”
Mrs Flatters worked at the London 2012 Olympics, and was awarded an MBE for services in triathlon. She enjoys having fun with her Lucozade Sport crew. “If we have any spare time before the main runners come through, I organise a little dash through the station. So it’s just like a little race.
“And then once that’s done, I get my volunteers to line up either side of the road, and we start doing Mexican waves.
“But once the runners start coming through, you know, you can’t really stop.”
Mrs Flatters’s team has been joined by brand ambassadors like Jonny Wilkinson, James Cracknell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chris Robshaw, Leigh Halfpenny, and Richie Gray.
As part of the effort to reduce waste, runners this year will receive a cup and not a bottle of Lucozade Sport.
“My experience with bottles is that people only take two or three sips, and then they discard, you know, 90% of the bottle on the floor, which is a terrible waste of product and waste of plastic,” Mrs Flatters said.
“So we did a trial two years ago with cups actually. And it seems to work very well.
“You don’t want gallons of fluid to drink, you just need a little bit.”
The final Lucozade sport station is located 21 miles into the 26.2-mile route. Mrs Flatters reported: “We’re gonna make jolly sure that they’re pushed on for those last few miles with a big smile on their face.”