London marathon competitors show no fear

From Olympic champion Mo Farah to first-time runners, Boston explosions harden the will and spirit of competitors.

British athlete Mo Farah photocall
British athlete Mo Farah is excited about running the half-marathon in city where he grew up [EPA]

Marathon runners expect severe pain and mental anguish. It’s part of the deal when you sign up for 42 kilometres of unrelenting road. What they do not expect is to be killed or dismembered. Yet that is what happened to some participants and their supporters with the atrocious bomb attack on last weekend’s Boston Marathon.

It is not a scenario anyone ever imagined at an event characterised by its breadth of humanity, benevolence and endeavour like marathon running. But for the 37,000 participants in this Sunday’s London Marathon, now there is an unexpected fear they all have to confront.

Just a matter of hours after the tragedies in Boston, organisers of the UK race were quick to announce that London would go ahead as planned on April 21. They have also since announced that they will donate $3 for every finisher to One Fund Boston, set up to raise money for victims of the bombings.

“My support goes to all the people, their family and their loved ones… But as they would want us to do, they will want us to show our support by carrying on”

London 2012 double gold medallist, Mo Farah

If those behind the attacks imagined they could test the human spirit within marathon running, it seems they were badly mistaken. Though there are concerns, the collective will has solidified from race organisers through to Olympic gold medallists to charity fun-runners.

The star attraction for Sunday’s event is Great Britain’s Mo Farah, returning to action in his home city eight months after he illuminated the London Olympics by winning 10,000m and 5000m gold in front of an adoring home crowd.

Although only running to halfway in Sunday’s event in preparation for his step up to the full distance next year, there is nothing half measured about his thoughts on last week’s horrific scenes in Boston and why London must go-ahead as planned.

“My support goes to all the people, their family and their loved ones,” he told Al Jazeera English.

“But as they would want us to do, they will want us to show our support by carrying on.

“London is a great city. It’s where I grew up, where I have done everything. I’ve got great memories of the London Olympics. What we did as a nation was incredible and I think we can do a similar job to that.”

As was always planned, Farah’s young family including wife Tania and three daughters, including twins born shortly after  the Olympics, will remain at his training base in Oregon, USA. Worries over his family’s welfare will not be a distraction for Farah.

And if Boston is anything to go by, Farah running within a small group at the front of the race and not crossing the finish line makes him a particularly unlikely target.

‘Panic and shock’

The perpetrators in the US city timed their attack for the masses and their supporters. Yet, there is an equally resolute attitude within the ranks of the ordinary runners that aligns them with the double Olympic champion.

Prolific runner Rodney Mushanganyisi completed last week’s Boston Marathon and barely had his finishing medal around his neck when he heard the explosions a few blocks away.

“It was panic and shock, people never thought something like that would ever happen in a marathon,” said the 37 year old from South Africa.

“The police sirens were everywhere and the streets were closed off, that’s when we realised. It is the world we are living in now.”

    London competitor Rodney Mushanganyisi with his finishing medal after Boston marathon [Al Jazeera]

Despite his family’s obvious concerns, he is fully committed to racing again this weekend in London, the city he now calls home.

“I don’t think it will make much difference to runners, as a community we are quite passionate and I don’t think there will be anything to deter us”.

“I only feel for my family. They are more worried than me. If it was up to them, maybe they wouldn’t want me to run anymore marathons.”

Perhaps, it would be more understandable if a first-time runner full of uncertainties about taking part in their debut marathon reconsidered their participation. Again, there is a determination to not be cowed by the threat of terrorism.

Julie Philp of Glasgow, Scotland will be tackling her first marathon. The 27 year old said: “My husband and I did have a discussion, but pulling out is just not an option. I watched on the television what happened in Boston with tears in my eyes.”

“But we have to trust what the police are telling us and what the race organisers are telling us and not let the bad guys win. My husband is coming with me and his parents too. They have got the same defiant attitude.

“We are keeping everything as it was pre-Boston. I can never contemplate not finishing and friends who come and support me not be safe either.

“I have watched the London Marathon every year on TV and I thought ‘why not?’ It feels like every spare minute has gone into this. The 6am runs, every spare minute of the weekends, I have literally had no social life since Christmas.”

Like thousands of others, she is running for charity, hers being a Scottish animal rescue organisation. Millions are raised annually by runners for good causes the world over, cheered every step of the way by tens of thousands of people supporting friends, family and complete strangers.

The London Marathon is a day which goes beyond the individual race winners. It is the type of day in which the collective human spirit shines brightest, something those behind the attacks in Boston have been unable to dim.

Chris Broadbent is a freelance sports writer based in London who specialises in Olympic and Paralympic sport. 

Source: Al Jazeera