Steve Trew loves commentating at the London marathon, and the athletes always inspire him
I love the London Marathon, absolutely love it. And – time to be jealous out there – I’ve done it 12 times. Yes, ‘Trew’ story, 12 times! Oh, OK, if you really need the details, I’ve run it twice (well, one was a run, the other more a 13-mile run and a 13-mile stumble – we’ve all been there). And the other 10 times? I’ve commentated on it. And now you know my secret, I may have to kill you…
My brief is the red start zone and then the second finish line. The start is great. I begin up in the commentary box with ace running commentator Geoff Wightman and we use the CCTV to focus in on particular athletes, get them on the big screens and give them a choice of songs to be played on the Tannoy. You know the favourites – Keep on running by The Spencer Davis Group, He ain’t heavy… he’s my brother by The Hollies (“the road is loooong, with many a winding turn…”), all that kinda stuff. We also usually get in YMCA by the Village People. I get a huge buzz every time I do the start.
With 90 minutes to go before the klaxon sounds, I go down to the red zone (or blue, or green) where I have the pleasurable job of being nice to people, calming their fears, giving them a countdown, pointing out which toilet queues are the shortest and answering all the questions that are repeated, and repeated, and repeated again, but are entirely valid for each athlete. I get to talk to – interview, in posh words – as many athletes as I can, pick out some vest messages, some poignant photos and some prints on T-shirts – and yes, I truly do cry at some of the messages – and hear the stories of why they’re running, whom they’re doing it for and which charities will benefit.
As soon as the klaxon goes and the athletes start to cross the line, my transition starts. I literally throw my microphone to one of the helpers and run to the first in a line of buses just adjacent to the start. As soon as it’s (fairly) full, we make a tortuous and tangled way through London to get to the finish area. We normally arrive just as the mini-marathon athletes are finishing.
There are usually three of us on the commentary team where I’m based, and I have the best job. I’m based 100m past the finish line, and after the athletes have collected their clothes and are a little less stressed, they have to come past me to exit the security section and meet their loved ones in Horse Guards Parade.
Before the first athlete gets to us, we’re on race commentary. We have a TV screen fixed up and a link to the race so we’re able to use our silver tongues to slip pearls of wisdom to the crowds from our gilded lips.
Chrissie Wellington was at the finish last year and it was pretty wonderful to be able to introduce her to the crowds and do a mini interview. Another big name was Robin Brew, who was fourth in the 200m individual medley back at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.
It’s fantastic to talk to the guys who come through. Past pupils of mine, ex-athletes of mine, good friends I thought I’d never see again. Guys from all over the world, guys who’ve run 50, 100, 150 marathons and, just as importantly, guys who’ve just finished their first marathon. Ordinary people, they’d say. Not to me. How many triathletes run London? Thousands.
I get a tear in my eye when I see the guys in the Help for Heroes T-shirts. Heroes? These guys really are. Here’s a quick story for you. A couple of years back, I’d just come out of hospital after a knee replacement. It was four weeks down the line and I was wearing the long black compression stockings – very tasteful! My leg was a bit sore. And then I watched this soldier running towards me with – and on – one leg. I’ll say that again: with – and on – one leg, the other being a metal prosthetic.
He was, of course, wearing a Help for Heroes shirt. I started talking to him. “Stood on a mine,” he said. “Blew it off. Lucky to be here.” My eyes seemed to get a little moist – probably the wind or something. And then he said: “But look at you! When did you get your knee done? Cor, bet that hurts…” The word, ladies and gentlemen, is humble. I rest my case.