Even carefully laid plans often go tits up, or maybe I am just unfortunate. The following details my experience taking around 16,000 photos of the London Marathon 2017. (There is a total of 17 albums of photographs of the 2017 London Marathon the links to which will be here as processed: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8)
On the train to Victoria Station, which is near the finish line, there is an announcement that the train will be delayed on account of obstruction to the line at Brixton. I hear that a man was hit by a train there. Later, I hear that he died.
I arrive in Victoria Station, which is near the finish line, over half an hour later than expected, which limits my options for how far back along the route I can trek to find a good spot and just as I arrive, the first wheelchair athletes are whizzing past and I have just missed the opportunity to photograph most of them. Here’s one of the few I captured.
Slightly anxious and conscious of time evaporating, I resolve to settle for a spot behind the railings, which I hate because of the angle and distance from the runners, but also because it will mean being on my knees, squatting, or having a hunched back for the entire event. And then nature calls. I shouldn’t have had those three cups of tea this morning and I have no idea where the loo is.
I run to the nearest steward and she says I could go across to St James’ Park, but the nearby tube station is probably a better option. I run to the tube station but they inform me that there is no loo there and so I sprint back to the course, wait impatiently to cross over it, peg it across the park, sort myself out, and leg it back to where I had crossed the course only to be told that I couldn’t cross there but would have to cross several hundred metres up the road. Several hundred metres up the road the stewards there also tell me I can’t cross and would have to go back to where I had just been told I couldn’t cross either. Exasperated, I explain the situation to him and he advises I go a kilometre up the road to cross at Buckingham Palace.
Bag, camera, and monopod in my hands, I tear back down to the original crossing point and plead with the steward who, after a moments consideration, agrees to let me cross. The wheelchair athletes are whizzing past all the while and at this stage I realise the best I can hope for is to get the first runners.
Sweat is profusely pouring from me at this stage and one of the stewards quips that I should be running the marathon. “Maybe next year,” I breathlessly blurt.
Having successfully crossed the road and trying to get back to my original spot, I’m halted by another steward who has only arrived since my toilet adventure started about 15 minutes prior.
“You can’t come down this way, it’s a one way system,” he authoritatively informs me.
“But I just came through here a few minutes ago and there’s not even anybody coming out this way yet,” I plead, but I can see that he is taking his role very seriously and there is not one ounce of flexibility in his emotionless face.
“How am I supposed to get back to where I was?” I inquire, wondering if it will even be possible.
“You’ll have to go around the block, mate,” he says.
I tear off around the block which is at least another kilometre, and barely get back before the first runners come through. I must have done around 5k just to go to a freaking toilet but now I’ve got back to where I was and, relieved, I drop to my knees to assume position and get on with the task at hand.
Thankfully, I capture the two winners of 2017’s London marathon. Kenyan Daniel Wanjiru wins the men’s race in a time or 2:05:48 and Mary Keitany, also from Kenya, wins the women’s race in a time of 2:17:01.
One of the interesting aspects of marathons is that they are open to just about everyone. You don’t have to be super fit and you don’t even need to even have arms, legs, or even eyes and there are quite a few blind runners here today, most of whom who seem to be from Japan.
Unlike most marathons I have photographed in Ireland, I don’t spot anyone I recognise apart from a lady called Kathleen Chessire, who I first met here, and a couple of Irish elites named Sean Hehir and Mick Clohissey.
The next few hours are spent primarily on my knees and I, on occasion, shift to a standing or squatting position to relieve aches and numbness. I spot other photographers have these portable little chairs and realise that this is another must-have accessory to add to my photography arsenal.
With 250,000 applications to enter the London Marathon 2017, there are 50,000 participants selected through various lotteries and point systems. This is 25 times bigger than the last marathon I photographed in Clonakilty and even 2.5 times bigger than Dublin 2016.
One of the most awesome things about the London marathon is the wide array of costumes. I spotted Robocop, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, a scatter of Rhinos, and even Jesus Christ himself.
When I eventually conclude my efforts I can barely stand up, my hands and all of my fingers are heavy and numb, my eyes are burning out of my head, I have a thirst such that I feel I could drink the Thames and looking at reality as it is rather than through a camera’s viewfinder seems kind of strange to me as I hobble in the direction of the train station.
A tinge of melancholy ripples through me as part of me doubts whether I even managed to get one decent picture in spite of my huge effort.
“Why did you think it was a good idea to try and photograph 50,000 people, you idiot, I think to myself, you’re going to simply have memory cards full of rubbish photos because it’s simply not possible to get any meaningful shots at such an event.”
Before long I’m at the airport and just about manage to get there on time to catch my plane home.
Mission accomplished; maybe not as well as I would have liked, but we all have our crosses to bear, don’t we?