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LONDON MARATHON: THE HIGHLIGHT OF A LIFELONG RUNNING JOURNEY

16 May 2019


All four of them are experienced runners who have tackled most of South Africa’s iconic races such as the Comrades Marathon, but none of them have ever run an international marathon. The Virgin Money London Marathon was a bucket list item for all four of them, and it sure did not disappoint!
 
Gauteng residents Greg James together with partner Chrissie Williamson and Kim van Niekerk together with husband Gavin have just completed their first international marathon and all four agree: it was the best experience ever, and especially the crowd support will always stand out as one of the highlights of their running journey’s.
 
Between Chrissie and Greg, they’ve run an impressive 31 Comrades Marathons and 13 Two Oceans Ultra’s, so it was a special experience lining up hallway across the world to tackle their first international marathon. What made it even more special was that Chrissie’s brother Blake who lives in Edinburgh, joined them on the journey. 
 
As for Kim and Gavin, both also no newbies to the world of sport, their goal was clear; to run the London Marathon in celebration of Kim’s 50thbirthday coming up later this year.
 
The two couples met by chance in London as they were on the same sporting package. They bonded quickly and experienced the whole London Marathon journey together.
 
This is what they had to say about their experience.
 
What was your overall experience of the 2019 London Marathon?
Greg: Amazing vibe, great crowd support along almost the entire route, and noise, noise and more noise!
Chrissie: Wow! What an experience. Fantastic.
Kim & Gavin: What a wonderful experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the marathon.
 
Great weather conditions – or not?
Greg: Cold. I wore gloves the entire route.
Chrissie: Very cold at the start, being dropped off 3 hours before the start was hard.
Kim & Gavin: It was chilly before the run while we waited, but we warmed up quickly whilst running.
 
How did you experience the start area and race village set up?
Greg: There were international runners from all over the world. We spoke to a Canadian runner who told us he had previously been part of a tour that had played hockey against Jeppe school. The race village was well spread out, the organisation very professional, the staff/volunteers very friendly and well briefed as wo what was going on. Every section was well sign posted (from the tog bag trucks to the tea/coffee station to the actual start). It was however very strange to start a race in batches – but it worked very well.
Chrissie: Amazing. There were so many people, yet nothing seemed cramped. There were thousands of runners in the four colour batches, standing under their coloured blimps high in the sky, and in the starting shoots there was no jostling or claustrophobia. It was very relaxed. It is difficult to make a mistake at the tog bag drop, there were huge flat beds clearly marked with race numbers. They were tight on security, only you were permitted to drop off/collect your bag. My brother met us in the race village, so that was special. 
Kim & Gavin: The vibe was amazing, and there was lots of excitement. We chatted to other runners and found everything to be very well organized. 
    
How was your actual run and experience of the crowds on the route?
Greg: A marathon is still a marathon and my legs reminded me constantly of this fact. The crowds were almost non-stop, with only a few very short sections without spectators. The noise was non-stop and bands of all sorts (from reggae to church groups to Scottish bag-pipers) were playing. And then of course there were loads of of amusing signs held up by spectators along the route.
Chrissie: We had a great run. It's interesting, there was respect but no fear for/on race day. It seemed strange when people wished us ‘luck’ for a marathon, something South Africans wouldn't generally say, more along the lines of ‘have a good run’. The support was unreal. On only two very small sections of the race do I remember actually hearing the pitter patter of feet. Very noisy. Bands and singers lined the route, many I would imagine impromptu. Wall to wall crowds, very few sections were barren. I don't recall a buffet at the refreshment tables (were spoiled that way in SA), but in the second half of the race spectators plied us with jelly babies!
Kim & Gavin: We both had a wonderful run and achieved our goals. Amazing spectator support along the whole route. Good watering points, and we enjoyed the Lucozade. Well organized. Wonderful running past all the London landmarks. We’ve never experienced such incredible crowd support along the entire route - it’s was incredible!

Any bad patches in the race?
Greg: The usual walls in the 30-40km section.
Chrissie:Nope. 
Kim & Gavin: We had one or two times when we had to dig deep but that is normal. We soon snapped out of it and continued to enjoy every minute.
            
What were your thoughts on the course?
Greg: Generally flat. It got more and more interesting the further the race progressed – with many interesting sites along the route.
Chrissie: Bit too flat for my liking. However, I never felt bored, crowds, family, landmarks, other runners, some in ridiculous outfits, many for charity, so many distractions.   
Kim & Gavin: Flat. Awesome running past the London landmarks, especially over Tower Bridge.
 
How did you feel running right past Buckingham Palace and onto that magnificent finishing straight?
Greg: Very happy to get to that last section – especially past the Victoria Memorial – and then noting all the runners actually speeding up along that finishing straight.
Chrissie: Unforgettable, emotional. 
Kim & Gavin: Running past Buckingham Palace and onto the finishing straight brought tears to my eyes. A dream come true!
 
What did you do when you crossed the line?
Greg: Saw Chrissie waiting for me – gave her a big hug and felt very emotional.
Chrissie: Burst into tears, waited for Greg and my brother, more tears.
 
Finishing time? Is that the time you had in mind? 
Greg: 5:07. Happy with that as we had not set watches, so we actually had no idea how we were doing. The experience was the race, and not the clock.
Chrissie: 4:59. I never wear a watch and of course with it being mat to mat I had no idea what the clock was doing.
Kim & Gavin: Kim just under 5 hours and Gavin just over 5 hours.We were both happy with our times. We ran for the experience, not time. We took pics along the route and soaked it all up. 
   
How did you celebrate after?
Greg: London style fish and chips in newspaper – plus a beer or two.
Chrissie: Fish and chips in newspaper. 
Kim & Gavin: We met up at the meet and greet area. We soaked up the experience more and went back to the hotel via the underground. We had a shower, spoke to family at home and went out for dinner - fish and chips as planned.
 
Which moment from the run stands out most?
Greg: Crossing London Bridge with Chrissie.The various bands, the noise, the number of children leaning over railings high fiving the runners.
Chrissie: Running over the Tower Bridge with Greg. Stopping on The Mall, looking back at Buckingham Palace, before crossing the finish line. 
Kim & Gavin: The start, Tower Bridge and the incredible finish! Also, the crowds.
 
How does the London Marathon compare to other marathons – or events – that you have done?
Greg: The size of the event and the professional manner in which it was organised was very impressive. The fact that the City of London provides free transport for runners on the day indicates how much they value the race.
Chrissie: Massive scale, yet everything works. Well organized, from registration to the finish line. Clearly a massive highlight in the city, not only for runners. The fact the public transport is so good runners and spectators can move around hassle free. It would be nice though if the runners’ names appear on their race numbers. 
Kim & Gavin: As our first international marathon it was awesome! We have never experienced such crowd support along an entire marathon route.
                
Next goal?
Greg: Shorter distances.
Chrissie: Nothing over the top, run often, enjoy being part of it all. 
Kim & Gavin: Kaapsehoop in November and Two Oceans next year. We would love to run Dublin Marathon in two years.
         



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