Limbering up for longest street party in the world
�It is not just the sunshine that is prompting more and more runners to fill the pavements over the last few days.
The London Marathon is only a month away and thousands of amateur athletes are limbering up for one of the capital’s biggest sporting events of the year.
But there is one man who has just a little more work to do than the others – responsible as he is for overseeing the gruelling 26.2-mile route, the hundreds of charities and sponsors set to benefit and some 36,000 runners.
Hampstead-based race director David Bedford says: “I’ve done this a lot of times but I still get nervous, because I just want to make sure everything goes right and that all the details tie in together.
“I became involved in 1990 and my role was to develop the event as a spectacle and make sure it feels like the longest street party in the world.”
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The carnival atmosphere is a major attraction for the crowds of more than half a million that line the course every year, with 90 bands performing along the route, thousands of runners racing in fancy dress and every street-side pub packed with supporters.
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The course itself, rarely altered since the event began 32 years ago, has been designed so that runners pass almost every London landmark – with the exception of St Paul’s Cathedral – ending at The Mall with “the most iconic and the best finish of any marathon in the world”, says Mr Bedford.
But, inevitably, preparations for such an event are not without their difficulties, especially as the world’s attention is focused on the capital in the lead-up to the Olympics.
“For years, we have used a pub called the City Pride as the BBC base for covering the event, but we only heard last week that it’s closing down on March 30,” he says. “So now we have to try to change our plans. It’s just one of those things.”
The former long-distance runner is no stranger to impressive physical feats, having broken records for the fastest 10,000m sprint and 3,000m and 5,000m steeplechase.
He has also run the London Marathon twice, first during the inaugural race in 1981 which he admits to drunkenly entering the night before.
The then 30-year-old completed the course without any sleep and a belly full of beer and curry, yet somehow still managed a respectable time of three hours and 45 minutes.
His second attempt a decade later – alcohol-free this time – saw him race to the finish in a little more than three hours.
But attempting to beat your personal best is just a small part of the event – with the huge fundraising efforts of its participants helping to raise more than �560million for charities to date.
Mr Bedford was the first to initiate the marathon’s fundraising potential and every year he gives away a handful of entry tickets to local charities of his choice.
In the past, the 62-year-old former world champ has supported Heath Hands, a voluntary organisation working to preserve Hampstead Heath, but this year he is giving me the opportunity to run and raise money for the Henderson Court Resource Centre, in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead.
The centre caters for more than 800 older people, who rely on it to provide hot meals, social activities and advice on everything from housing issues to disabilities.
Raising enough money to keep the services going may prevent the centre from being shut down entirely, after Camden Council pulled the plug on its funding.
Mr Bedford, who was born just a two-minute walk from where he currently lives next to the Heath, says: “I was only made aware of the challenges at Henderson Court through the Ham&High.
“I have lived in Hampstead for a long time now and I was quite taken aback by the work they do there for old people in the area. In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I’ll be old too one day’.”
And his advice to first-time runners like me? “It’s a massive challenge, but it’s certainly not impossible.”
n The London Marathon will take place on Sunday, April 22. To support Daisy’s efforts in aid of Henderson Court, please sponsor her at www.virginmoneygiving.com/daisyjestico