As the Virgin London Marathon gets underway, Londonist contributor Simon Anderson recounts the time he ended up making a disastrous toilet stop during the race.
Today around 35,000 people of all shapes and sizes will haul themselves through the streets of the capital for the 32nd annual London Marathon. A few will strive to break records; most others will be aiming to finish with their limbs still attached to their torsos.
I ran the London Marathon twice, in 2008 and then again in 2010. The race itself is a whirlwind, an overwhelming blitz of noise, colour and sweat: amazing and horrid in equal measure. Memories from the two have blurred together, but one moment from two years ago is still crystal clear.
For the four days preceding the run I drank four isotonic drinks a day. I thought my body would store up the energy and then I could unleash it all when needed. It turns out that this is not a good idea.
I spent most of the night before the race on the toilet dealing with a rather unpredictable, and seemingly endless, set of bowel movements.
“Mind over body” I instructed myself. I don’t want to go to the toilet, therefore I won’t need to go to the toilet: simple. Not so simple it turns out.
The run started off peacefully enough. As I scampered through the swathes of people and got into a rhythm I even convinced myself that I was cured.
By 6 miles in I was running like I’d been shot in each buttock. I skipped awkwardly along for a while longer, but in the end I was faced with the Paula Radcliffe decision: Did I want to defecate in public? Probably not today.
I spotted a group of boozy Aussie lads and ladettes outside their house having a barbeque by the roadside. I scuttled over to them and quickly explained my predicament. They laughed. I didn’t. One bloke showed me inside to their toilet under the stairs. I sprang inside and hurriedly shut the door.
“Don’t lock it mate, the door jams shut and you can’t unlock it again," he shouted.
I was locked in. I had trained for months, raised money, got bleeding nipples, and it was all going to end in a dingy toilet near Peckham with a load of drunken surfers laughing at me through the door.
The voice on the other side told me to smash the door down: “I don’t care, just barge it off the hinges mate,” he said. I rammed myself against it, and then started punching the panels. It wouldn’t budge, and now my knuckles were bleeding.
“OK mate, what you are going to have to do is unscrew the cistern. There’s a hole in the bottom of it that you can throw the keys through. It comes out of the back of the house”, he instructed.
“How do I unscrew it?”
“There’s a screwdriver on the sink.”
“Of course there is.”
So I then set about unscrewing a toilet cistern, while outside thousands of runners sidled past unaware of this great injustice. By now there were lots of people offering unhelpful advice and jokes from the other side of the door: “You want me to drive you to the finish buddy?” and “we should probably get that door fixed,” were two particular favourites.
Once I had levered the toilet open the hole became clear: it was about the size of a football. I chucked the keys into it and heard them rattle down the chute.
“I’ve got them mate, no worries,” a female voice echoed back.
The door flew open moments later and I dashed out past what seemed like more Australians than before, all laughing and patting me on the back.
“Do you want a beer mate?” one joker quipped as he thrust a can in front of me. I politely declined, and sprinted back into the melee of runners desperate to make up for the minutes I had lost. Surprisingly enough I did not need to go to the toilet again.
‘Mind over body’, it always works.
Image by Markle1 in the Londonist Flickr pool.