I was asked by MarathonFoto.com if I would be available to assist with the 2011 London Marathon.   I said yes, as there was nothing in the diary and the experience would be interesting, as my wife Emma had volunteered as a St. John Ambulance first aider several times and said the experience was worth it.

I travelled to London by train, first class.   I enjoy train travel, but suspect the novelty would wear off if I had to commute. Bizarrely first class was cheaper than the standard fare – why can’t train fares be easy to understand!   I was told to report to Tower Bridge hotel for a briefing, and as it was a nice afternoon, chose to walk to Tower Bridge rather than battle through the tube.    They were putting me up for the night in the hotel as well.

During the briefing I had the opportunity to meet my team leader.   We were all being split into groups and each group had certain areas to cover.   There were to be roughly 40 photographers out on the course, with an additional 40 or so being drafted in to cover the pre-race candid photos and to take as many photographs as possible of the finishers with their medals.    There was supposed to be about 30,000 runners taking part, so a lot of photographers were needed.

We had to be ready to leave the hotel at 7.30am, so fairly early night, and then a hurried breakfast in the busy hotel dining room alongside many of the celebrity runners, and then out of the door, crossing London by tube.   Tube travel was free for Marathon helpers which was nice and sped progress.     The first stop was the finish line for some of our team to collect some equipment and to help out making signs and backdrops for the medal photographs, then we walked up The Mall, towards Buckingham Palace and then down St. James Park to out designated areas.

We were on Birdcage Walk, alongside St. James Park, roughly half a mile from the finish line, next to The Guards Museum.      The first runners were the Children who were competing in a 5km run, then a short break before the Adult wheelchair athletes came through.    The Elite women came next, followed by the Elite Men and then it was the biggest class – the club and fun runners.

The idea was to take photos of as many people as possible.   Photos are sorted electronically using character recognition software on the runners identification number, so you had to be careful to get the number in shot.  Some runners tended to cover  their number with their arms.  Others didn’t have them pinned on properly.    Those shots will get filed in the unsorted category.

It was interesting to see peoples reactions to the camera.    Some were obviously still mentally alert as they would give a thumbs up or some sort of reaction to the camera.    Many were just battling to the finish and gave no reaction, and others were so tired, by the time they had spotted the camera and pulled some sort of grimace at me, I was already targetting people several yards behind them.   Sorry to those guys!

Not everyone made the finish, and it was a shame to see several people get so close to the finish yet fail to make it.    One person collapsed and started fitting, others simply collapsed as their muscles couldn’t support them any longer.    These were quickly attended to by the St. John Ambulance volunteers.   Many other people, having problems so close to the end, were helped along by fellow competitors –  a very touching moment.

By late afternoon many people were still coming through.    We were asked to stand down our position at 6pm, but there were still competitors coming through, pretty much all walking, some of them obviously nursing an injury but wanted to complete the course.    Then it was time to hand in our memory cards, travel back to the hotel, grab my overnight bag and then back to Liverpool Street for the journey home, arriving in Norwich just before 11pm.

I was allowed to keep my London Marathon ‘staff’ t-shirt, windcheater & cap and also the lanyard with the 2011 photography pass.     Would I do it next year – well  yes I would, assuming I was available that weekend.