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Feature

Running Commentary

Running Commentary

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While the runners limber up, Asif Hashmi looks at what the spectators can expect from the upcoming Rome, Paris and London Marathons

On top of the risks of inner thigh chafing, jogger’s nipple and addiction to Vaseline, marathon running has one big drawback. It’s just too easy. Slap one foot down in front of the other every evening until knackered for four months, while whistling the themes from Chariots of Fire or Rocky. Fit and motivated, all the runner has to do on the big day is cruise for 42.195km in thumbs-up, superslo- mo Herovision with the cheers of Aunty Edna and the kiddies crackling over the mobile.

Serious spectators, on the other hand, have it hard, generally doing without friends and family to get them going. They risk falling prey to the street party frolics, wacky races and free slices of fruit on offer..

Admittedly it sounds like fun. But leaning out of a bar to cheer will earn you nul points. For bragging rights on the way home you’ll need to spot the top runners, the celebs and deserving cases or, at the very least, our Kev.

London

With a fairly flat course running along the River Thames, from the south over to the north, London is where records get broken.

Last year, Kenya’s Martin Lel won the men’s marathon in 2:07:41; China’s Chunxiu Zhou won the women’s race in 2:20:38. The UK’s Paula Radcliffe hopes to win her fourth Flora London Marathon title on 13 April: she won in 2002, 2003 and 2005. And then, come 17 August, Paula takes on Beijing.

What runners can’t miss is the London crowd. Here, serious running is balanced by some serious jollity.

The marathon doubles as carnival for the million or so spectators lining the route to cheer on the mad-for-it, all-dressed-up, 42.195km-to-go rhino-suited loons, the celebrities – last year, among others, model Nell McAndrew, TV chef Gordon Ramsay and BBC economics editor Evan Davis – as well as all the different charities. After raising £46.5 million in 2007, London currently holds the Guinness World Record for the “World’s Largest Fundraising Event Held Annually”.

If you want to spot the runners rather than the crowds, avoid the start, finish or the landmarks in between. With jazz, bhangra and steel bands, samba dancers, pop crooners and Japanese drummers for company, crawl the 70 or so pubs lining the route. Get full marks for spotting your runners along a quiet stretch in Deptford, from the pubs along Creek Road and Evelyn Street at around the 12km mark. Cheers!

Paris

Don’t expect too many runners in mad costumes in Paris on 6 April. Just mad waiters.

The French like their sports extreme. Like the Tour de France and the Paris-Dakar off-road

Setting off from the Arc de Triomphe, the runners spread out along the Champs-Elysées and pass through parks, along the river Seine, past great Parisian landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and Place de la Bastille. rally, the Paris Marathon is a serious affair.

Flat as a squashed crêpe, the Paris course is a favourite for runners looking to get personal bests.

In 2007, Qatar’s Mubarak Shami finished 2:07:19 in the men’s marathon; Ethiopian Tafa Magarsa finished 2:25:07 in the women’s.

For personal bests, spectators should leave the crowded centre. Find quieter spots along the route to catch the marathon’s French accent. At around the 31km mark, there’s a perfect photo op – waiters serving fruit, wine and Cognac to runners as they stagger past the Eiffel Tower.

Another good picture postcard spot is the Bois de Vincennes: a green lung in the east around which the marathon swings. Exit Porte Dorée metro, some 30 minutes from the centre, just past the 10km mark, to see the runners turning into Avenue Daumesnil.

It’s a 10-minute walk from there with the runners and through the park to a runners’ sponge stall at the imposing Château de Vincennes. Cut through the château to the metro station to return to the finish line.

Distractions? There’s a band every kilometre. Expect South American drummers, Cuban dancers, Carmen Miranda lookalikes, funk, jazz, rhythm ’n’ blues, African beats, Caribbean steel bands, majorettes, Mariachis, Capoeira performers, pink t-shirted boys waving pompoms to Kylie’s latest...

01 March 08