By Colin Russell
For me, the 2014 VLM started in a similar way to many of you – I applied to run. Nervously waiting in October for the answer to arrive on my doorstep, I returned home after work to find a “You’re In!!” pack waiting. Unfortunately, my joy was short lived as I discovered that my postman had very kindly delivered mine and my neighbours packs to my address (there may have been a few choice words uttered that evening).
Whilst I was disappointed, I realised that I could still help out at the start, as I have for most of the last twenty-mumble years.
I contacted the Blue Start Zone Manager to confirm that I was available and willing to help, and was given my regular Zone 2 leader position. I started recruiting volunteers from friends and colleagues during February, and although many were put off by the early start. I soon gathered a small group of half a dozen suckers, I mean volunteers.
In speaking with the Zone Manager, I discovered that our numbers were down on previous years, so thought I’d see if the wonderful BOSHers would be willing and interested in helping. The response I received was encouraging, with several people signing up straight away, and more coming forward following a second request.
From previous experience I knew that not everyone would be able to make it, so while I hoped to have a team of nearly 20 joining me, a much lower number was expected.
The 12th of April found me up on Blackheath, ensuring that the fences and barriers were in place, the zones were marked out and confirming the plans with some other Zone leaders and the Zone Manager.
Then the 13th dawned, or didn’t really dawn – I was up at 3:30, and on the road by 4:30 to drive from Heathrow with two friends, to be ready for a 7am briefing. I heard from Ann Marie a little while before I arrived that she was already there, so knew that I had four others for sure.
By the end of the briefing, my followers had grown to 8 (after a few phone calls with various people to direct them to where they needed to be), and soon grew further. I ended up with 10 hardy souls and myself, but as other zones were short of people, I found myself with a brave team of 5 glamorous assistants!
Most of the morning was quiet – answering a few questions from runners as to where the start was, which way they’d be running, and what time they could come into the pens, and enjoying Ann Marie entertaining us all with her distinctive humour, and Harshda dancing to keep warm.
The wheelchair athletes started at 8:55 and the buzz of activity grew. Then the IPCC athletes went off, and we could soon hear the women being announced to the crowd in the grandstand. As the hooter went off for the third time, I started opening the gates to let the eager athletes into the second zone.
The stream of athletes of all shapes and sizes was constant, and I was very glad of a couple of assistants in the form of Cub Scouts, who were there to clear up the clothes and rubbish after the start – checking to make sure only the athletes with a 2 on their number were admitted to the Zone. Tops and bin-bags were lifted to reveal numbers, and a few zone 1 runners demoted themselves (you can go backwards as far as you want, but you can’t go forwards). A few stray higher zone athletes slipped past, but I wasn’t going to tackle anyone just about to run 26.2 miles.
I was checking my watch constantly as the minutes ticked by, and noticed the previously packed Blue Assembly Area gradually empty.
All of a sudden, the atheletes in Zone 2 moved forwards, much quicker than I was expecting – usually it’s a very slow and controlled move forwards, which gives me time to prepare the Zone 3 athletes, but this year it was a rush, and some runners pushed past my marshals, under the tape and joined the back of the pack ahead.
A quick shout of “WHOA!!!” halted any further escapees, and we started walking the athletes forward. It was a well controlled advance, with everyone behaving, and respecting my team (maybe helped by the fact that they were 5 very friendly young ladies!), and my calls to slow or walk.
We arrived a metre or so behind the Zone 2 athletes about 30 seconds before the gun, and my team moved to the side of the road, with thanks from many of the runners. My team and I then moved back behind the advertising hoardings (very important point!), as the starting hooter went off.
The stream of runners going past is always an emotional time for me, and my eyes did well up, but the applause and shouts never stopped.
I spotted one BOSHer, who gave high fives to my whole team – no idea who you were, but hope you did well!!
It was another great day, and it was lovely to meet some fellow BOSHers in the flesh. And lots of thanks from so many runners.
Far too early for a sensible person to get up!! And I didn’t get accepted into the run in the first place.
Thank you so much to Ann Marie and her friend, Joanne, Nathalie and Becky and her friend from BOSH, and thank you to Clare, Harshda, Nikki, Julia and Adrienne for all getting up crazy early to come along and help make the 2014 VLM another amazing event.
I’ll look forward to seeing you all again next year, either running, marshalling or supporting in another way.