The London Marathon is the best day of the year in this part of south-east London, right? So wouldn’t it be great if there was another one?
And no, not the return of Run to the Beat.
Just announced today, and coming on 4 March 2018, is The Big Half – a half-marathon using the central chunk of the London Marathon course. It’ll start at Tower Bridge, wind its way back around Canary Wharf, then back over Tower Bridge to end at the Cutty Sark. It’s organised by the same team behind the London Marathon.
The event in full…
– The Big Half, a mass participation race over the classic half marathon distance, starting at the iconic setting of Tower Bridge and finishing in Greenwich
– The Little Half for younger runners will be held on a 2.1 mile route from Southwark Park to the stunning Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich
– The Big Relay, exclusively for community groups from the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich, with distances ranging from one mile to five miles
– The Big Festival in Greenwich with a huge range of food music and entertainment, including performances from community groups and fun activities and fitness classes for the whole family to enjoy
Entry is open now if you fancy doing it yourself. There are 5,800 places in the main race (making it much smaller than either the main marathon or the unlamented Run to the Beat) with a limited number of discounted places for people from the host boroughs (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets).
Quotes from the press release:
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Big Half has the potential to become one of the most remarkable days in our sporting calendar. And putting local people at the heart of a world-class running event is a masterstroke. Sport has the power to change people’s lives, and we hope The Big Half will become an annual event that can help inspire tens of thousands of Londoners to get involved in sport and in their local communities.”
Hugh Brasher, Event Director, The Big Half, said: “If you were inspired by Sunday’s London Marathon, this is your chance to get involved in an event like no other. Sport can be an incredible way of joining people together and getting communities to interact together. We are creating an event that is unique, that is fun, that people will want to come back to year after year. The Big Half is a celebration of community and life.”
There’ll still be a bit of disruption (I imagine people in Wapping will feel sore) but nothing like the mass closures of full marathon day. And it looks like it’ll be a huge day for Greenwich town centre. So stick the date in your diary…
A gorgeous day for the London Marathon – a reminder of why this is easily the best weekend of the year in south-east London.
People come out and cheer and chat, pubs suddenly gain jazz bands and sound systems, and for a few precious hours, overlooked streets come alive. It’s London at its very best, and felt all the more special in light of the terrible events in Boston last week.
It’s also why the lesser, largely unwanted Run To The Beat event will never truly take off – when your race pounds the same streets, with fewer people, you’ll always be caught in its shadow.
Among the quirks of marathon day is the jazz band outside the headquarters of Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party on Woolwich Road, Greenwich – they’ve been playing When The Saints Go Marching In every race day for as long as I can remember.
Today was no exception. Indeed, today saw an impressive turnout of local Labour dignitaries, including MP Nick Raynsford and his possible successor, assembly member Len Duvall, out among the public. It’s always a nice surprise to see elected representatives out and about on a big community day, although it really shouldn’t be.
But one figure’s never seen there – council leader Chris Roberts. No mingling with the hoi polloi for him…
Thank you to the eagle-eyed 853 reader who spotted where the Dear Leader watched the London Marathon – from high up on the Cutty Sark (on the far right), away from the public and his party members. “It looked like one of those old Russian mayday parades! Just runners instead of tanks,” my spy suggests. (11pm Sunday update: I’ve been sent a clearer photo. I wonder who the people with Roberts are?)(11am Monday update: I’m told places on board the Cutty Sark were being sold for £40 to benefit the council-backed Greenwich Starting Blocks charity. Ahoy!)
Back among the great unwashed, with the area covered in ads for health drinks and sporting goods, it was curious to see a former newsagent in Charlton offer its own advice to runners…
But walking home after the traditional marathon morning pint, the same old question came into my head. With the streets blissfully free of traffic for an hour after the race ends, why don’t we do something with them? Even mid-demolition Woolwich Road in Charlton felt peaceful and serene in the Sunday sunshine – imagine what you could do with Greenwich town centre during the afternoon after the marathon.
Until we reclaim the streets after the runners have passed by, we’ll never make the most of this magical day in the calendar. But when you’re watching from the Cutty Sark, it’s perhaps not a thought that’s ever going to spring to mind.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again on Sunday, and I’ll say it again now. There’s no better morning to be in this part of south-east London than London Marathon day. A rolling carnival of human endeavour, sporting excellence and charity follies, it’s something that brings out the best in this corner of the world. Richard Branson and the Evening Standard had a wheeze to re-route it away from this area, but thankfully it came to nothing.
But has anyone on the route heard anything from the organisers this year? For many of us, the marathon’s a Sunday morning lock-in, a day you may need to plan in advance for. I live in the locked-in area and have heard nothing. The other night I had a call from a pal who lives on the route and had also heard nothing.
I asked on Twitter, and the unanimous response, from mile one to mile eight at Rotherhithe was… we’ve had nothing through our doors.
Now, I understand some car owners have had notes on their windscreens asking them to shift their motors, but that’s it. You might say that since the marathon’s more than 30 years old, everyone knows about it – but they don’t. Plenty of people think they can drive out of the lock-in area as soon as the runners pass, some even try to catch buses while the race is on.
Keep an eye out for this fella over Easter – fundraiser Lloyd Scott is crawling along the marathon route raising funds for Action For Kids.
I just bumped into him on Woolwich Road, Charlton, and he’ll be spending Easter navigating his way through Greenwich, Deptford and Rotherhithe at a pace of a mile a day. You can see more on his blog.
There is no better day to be in this part of London – and the weather couldn’t have been much better for it. More at The Charlton Champion.
The Evening Standard might have changed ownership, but its hatred of south-east London continues. Today’s paper puffs up Richard Branson’s latest wheeze – to change the route of the London Marathon. It seems we’re not good enough down here for Branson, whose Virgin brand takes on the race’s sponsorship from next April.
Speaking exclusively to the Standard, Sir Richard, who plans to run the Marathon for the first time next year, acknowledged that the current 26-mile, 385-yard route does not showcase London at its best.
He said: “I would like readers of the Standard to come up with a better route. We’re very open to ideas.” The change is one of a package of measures being considered to make next year’s race on 25 April “more fun and glamorous”.
Trouble is, anyone with who’s actually familiar with the capital will be well aware that you simply cannot make a 26-mile route through London “more fun and glamorous” without including some less sparkly bits. The current route, little altered since 1981, starts at Blackheath, runs through Charlton, then turns back at Woolwich, back through Charlton, Greenwich, Deptford, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Tower Bridge, loops through Wapping, Poplar and the Isle of Dogs before hugging the Thames through the City and Westminster, ending either at The Mall or Westminster Bridge.
Described as “magnificent” by its founder Chris Brasher, who died in 2003, the course was commended by the tourist board for passing the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the riverside, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. In fact, the route’s got more glitzy over the years anyway – the first marathon followed the closure of the east London docks, and much of the route was then an industrial wasteland. Now it passes through capitalism’s shiniest monuments, alongside historic landmarks and ordinary homes. Add the London Eye, Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern to the new sights over the past three decades, and you’ve managed the majority of “must see” sights you’d persuade a tourist to visit.
But the Standard’s consumer business editor (eh?) Jonathan Prynn writes: “The marathon begins in Blackheath and ends in The Mall, but for 24 miles runners are forced to pound the streets of east London [sic] where crowds are often thin and “sights” few and far between.
“Only small sections of the course are by the river or in parks and apart from Buckingham Palace, little of “tourist London” is seen by the runners.”
So, clearly, the problem is us. Blackheath, Greenwich, Charlton, Deptford, Woolwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey clearly are not good enough for Richard Branson. And are not good enough for the Evening Standard, either. “This newspaper takes a fundamentally optimistic view of life, of London and Londoners,” says editor Geordie Greig. Clearly not when it comes to south-east London, though.
For me, it’s one of the highlights of the year, a terrific community event which gets people out and enjoying themselves. It’s a great booster for local businesses; pubs are packed out at 11am, shops and cafes do healthy trade and the whole place smells of sweat and bacon sandwiches for a morning. It’s a real people’s occasion – something which marks it out from, say, the Lord Mayor’s Show or Trooping The Colour.
It’s mostly ordinary runners, passing the homes of ordinary people (and often, their own homes). For visitors, the race is also relatively easy to follow by public transport, with both local rail and Docklands Light Railway following the route – both offering unique views of the race you can’t get by Tube.
I don’t know if anyone wants to make Jonathan Prynn read an A-Z, but only small sections of London road are by the Thames – a marathon that used, say, Chelsea Embankment would still end up having to go through drab streets once Cheyne Walk swings away to Earl’s Court. And parkland doesn’t make for good TV viewing – or a decent atmosphere, as campaigners who’ve wanted to keep the Notting Hill Carnival in W11 will testify.
Maybe that’s where Branson wants the route to run – Notting Hill, the heartland of the Standard’s imagined readership and the tycoon’s old stamping ground. But you’d only end up swapping, say, Woolwich (with its distinctive barracks) for Shepherd’s Bush (with its Westfield shopping centre), and how would West End stores feel about losing a day’s trade because nobody can cross the road? Branson hasn’t thought it through properly – and nor has the Standard, which should know better than to jump on this with such glee. Clearly, though, the paper hasn’t changed its spots since the takeover, despite what its editor says.
Like many of Branson’s schemes, hopefully this will die a quiet death. As for the Standard, I suspect that fate is due anyway once its new owner’s money runs out. Time for another round of ‘Sorry’ billboards, Geordie?
A bit tardy with this, but better late than never. Annoyingly, my really bloody good camera conked out on Friday and so the compact was wheeled into action for Marathon Sunday. This is the 29th London Marathon I’ve lived through – anyone else remember the first, in 1981? – and it still doesn’t get boring.
t’s the only Sunday of the year I’ll happily clamber out of bed before 9am. It’s habit, from being woken up by preparations (and bands) from when I lived within water bottle-throwing distance of the route. Now it’s a leisurely stroll through the fun-runners at the one mile mark before wandering downhill to see the elite men at five miles – and hear the drummers under the flyover – and into Greenwich for a morning Guinness at six miles.
As an event which brings people together, it just can’t be beat.
I couldn’t help thinking the police were a bit on the officious side this year – nagging a bloke stood on a bit of street furniture seemed a bit sour but may have been justified, insisting crowds stand on the pavement even at the end of the race wasn’t, though.
At the back of the field, everyone gets their own personal cheer, although I’m not sure they’re helped by seeing marathon officials dismantle the race around them.
And then… peace and quiet, with no cars allowed onto the course until it’s cleaned up. One day, maybe, the marathon street closure will last all day and people will be free to walk the streets of Greenwich. Until then, those couple of hours after the marathon are the best we’ve got.