It’s coming up to midnight on Saturday and I’m drinking beer on a train into London much like the few other passengers in the carriage. The only difference is I’m in running kit and off to run an alternative version of the London Marathon. Or at least I hope I am. This whole thing sounds like an elaborate prank.
The reverse London marathon, or nohtaram eht, has been going a number of years, organised by Rich Cranswick and covers the route backwards, so Buckingham Palace to Greenwich.
It’s a social run in the style of the America Fat Ass events – where groups of runners turn up on agreed times to run together on a set course or laps, free of any entry fees, race rules etc.
The nohtaram starts at the end of the marathon route, or as close as the public can get, namely 1 Birdcage Walk (The Institute of Mechanical Engineers) with waves going at 2am, 3am and 4am on the morning of the actual London Marathon, aiming to finish by 8am before the main event final set up and avoid getting in their way.
There’s no registration, no signup, no fee. Everyone runs under their own supervision as sensible adults just like when you run with your mates around the local streets. A marathon with no medal, no timing and no ill-fitting top? What is this lunacy!?
So what’s the point?
People could run 26.2 miles on any night around any city but the London Marathon gives focus for the date, a reason for many runners to be in town, the course is marked out, the portaloos are in place and toward the end of the run (start of the marathon) the roads are closed to traffic so safe to run on.
Who runs it?
Some run it as warm-up for the main marathon either to bag miles for ultra training or help increase sponsorship. Others run it to get some miles in before spending the day volunteering or spectating the real thing. Others just run it because they can.
Kit & Food
There’s no aid stations, no compulsory kit list, nothing. You need to bring whatever food or drink you think you’ll need for the run, and for keeping safe and dry afterwards. Some of the shops on route are open but wouldn’t recommend relying on them. There’s a McDonalds just before Cutty Sark that opens at 6am for breakfast on route.
Even on a hot weekend it can get cold at night so I’d recommend double layers for the run and dry top for the end (ideally in a bag to keep dry), a raincoat, hat or buff and gloves. Street lighting in London is good so no real need for headtorches. If you’re planning on spending the day in London after then a battery pack for phone or charger is handy.
As above it starts at Birdcage Walk and follows the route, except for a couple of section like the tunnel where you need to run alongside. It finishes at Greenwich, just before the official start line. Don’t try and run over the start line, looking dishevelled with a heavy rucksack or you might find security want a word – for this reason Rich advises you stop at the red start, by the Andrew Gibb Memorial.
Essentially runners follow the blue line on the road and the barriers already erected on the course. For the first half you’ll need to run on the pavement and cross roads at crossings. From the Docklands onwards it’s probably quiet enough you can run a lot in the road and follow the blue line better. The mile markers will all be erected to count back down the distance. The extra miles from the slight diversions and road crossings will make up for the short distance missed at either end. Drop me a line if you want the GPX to follow. I was directed by Julius who has run it before so it’s pretty accurate.
If you’re within London this is easy, if not you’re need to drive in and park (good luck) or get the train. From Milton Keynes the last train got me into Euston about 1am, leaving an hour to do a couple of tube stops and wander down. If you book train in advance it was as cheap as £5.
The McDonalds on the Strand, a short walk from start is open all night so is where many meet to get a final bite, use the toilet and grab a coffee. McDs has security on the door and it’s strange mix of drunk clubbers and lycra-clad weirdos. Whilst inside I bumped into Si and Whiffers from Transgrancaria earlier in the year. Whiffers was skating the route with a friend as preparation for the Berlin Skate Marathon.
Coming up to the hour(s) people wander off in groups to assemble at the Birdcage Walk start, then set off. For 2019 a rival reverse marathon was arranged by Impact Marathons, also free, and setting off at Trafalgar Square. Imitation is sincerest form of flattery, and Impact Marathons raise a lot of money for charity from their other events, but still unsure what the actual point of their rival one is.
The run itself is fun, more reminiscent of an ultra as you fall in step with people, chat, and get lost together. Being unofficial you can bring dogs as well if you want, or skate it, or have a mate cycle behind for support and to carry bags. On more than a couple of occasions you bump into other groups coming the wrong way, especially around Docklands where the two mini loops could be run either way by accident. Since there’s no time pressure you can stop for photos, loo breaks, a can of lager from the off licence and all the other fun stuff that you can miss on PB attempts.
I ran with fellow Bad Boy Running fans Julius, Allie and Ben, and we stuck together throughout, mostly so I could make a fuss of Toby the dog. Allie was down to run the main event after so chastised us for going too quickly when we went through halfway around 2h20. We backed off for the second half, waited for McDonalds at Cutty Sark and finished in about 5h30. Much of the final course setting up and aid station preparation was underway and builds a sense of anticipation as you approach the ‘end’, count down the miles and pass other reverse runners, volunteers and main event runners nervously walking to the start. Finish too early and you’d miss a lot of this.
Take your photos near the finish line and then get on with your day. Some pop to Bills café near Cutty Sark for breakfast around 9am. I grabbed the overland from Blackheath back to central London and home for bed.
Best place to check arrangements and make contact with other runners is the Facebook event. Search for nohtaram eht and you should find it. Pick the one organised by Rich Cranswick if multiple results come up. There’s some rumours on FB that they’re merging the Impact one in with this from next year so keep an eye out.
Go along, chat to people, mostly don’t be a dick and get the thing cancelled.