• Thousands of people take part in the 2016 London Marathon on Sunday, 24th April
  • Not only a test of fitness, but also a test of determination and endurance
  • We get the insights from three veteran Marathon participants to find out about their experiences and what motivated them to get involved

The Virgin Money London Marathon kicks off in full swing this Sunday 24th April, with thousands of people from all over are expected to descend upon London to take part in this world famous event. Whilst marathons are obviously a test of athleticism, they also represent a test of determination and endurance. People choose to run marathons for a multitude of different reasons, whether they are running for a charity or a personal motivation.

We got in touch with three running enthusiasts – Cat, Laura and Keith - who have all run marathons in different parts of the world to find out what motivated them to get involved. 

Catherine told us about her experience in Marrakech

A historical tower building in Marrakech with people moving through a market area

It’s hot, dusty and every so often, a pungent scent wafts by and reminds me that I’m about to run a race very different to anything I’ve done before. After not much more than a four hour flight from the UK, I’m in Marrakech, with camels, palm trees and the city’s impressive terracotta walls to marvel at.

As a race destination, Morocco presents a few more challenges than events closer to home. There are fewer Western conveniences in Marrakech; no sports shops to pick up kit or energy gels, should you forget to pack anything. The event itself is a rickety, camel-drawn cart in comparison to the well-oiled machines of most big European races. In place of a sophisticated expo, there’s a small square just outside town, with just a few stalls and a giant, blow-up teapot to welcome runners. The start line has no bag drop and there isn’t the usual line of porta-kabin toilets with queues snaking back for miles (find a bush, should nature call).

But what Marrakech lacks in usual race frills, it more than makes up for in atmosphere and scenery. Locals are out in force to cheer runners and the flat marathon and half marathon routes take in the city’s 12th-century ramparts, orange groves and palm-lined streets, all against a backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas mountains. The race starts early, at around 8 am, to avoid the heat of the day. In a few hours, the temperature has risen to around 20 Celsius and the sun feels strong, so pack a cap and some sun cream.

After the race is a great time to sample the real cuisine of Morocco. The Djemaa el Fna square is the ideal place to soak up the authentic atmosphere of Marrakech. Come dusk, this comes alive with the sounds of horns and Moroccan drums, and amidst the smoke from the food sellers, snake charmers, storytellers, magicians ply their trade. The food from the stalls is cooked fresh and includes grilled aubergine, kebabs and harira soup, with local bread on the side (or try the snails or sheep’s head if you’re feeling brave). No alcohol is served at the stalls, but square-side bars and international bars offer the local beer, Flag Speciale.

It’s worth staying in Marrakech for a few days after the race to visit the souks and other sights, such as the Koutoubia Mosque, which towers over the west of the square, and the Jardins Marjorelle are a couple of miles walk or short taxi ride from the centre.

Read more about Catherine’s marathon experiences please on her blog.

Laura took on Frankfurt, the city where the end of the race is marked with confetti, pop music and a red carpet…

Laura and her friends pointing and smiling at the start point of the Frankfurt race

There are many reasons why, for my seventh marathon, I ended up on the start line in Frankfurt. I imagine that one of them is the reason most marathon runners find themselves in Frankfurt - it’s a flat, fast course perfect for those hunting a PB. Six months earlier I’d promised my friend Liz that I’d pace her round the course to a sub-4 hour marathon.

Unlike most marathons I’ve prepared for, training for Frankfurt wasn’t just about running. I’d done my first half iron distance triathlon a month before, so I’d been swimming and cycling more and running less than normal. I used the triathlon as my longest training weekend - the theory being that the half marathon run at the end would be enough to prepare me to run 26.2 miles at Liz’s pace.

We stayed at The Corner Hotel which was really close to the expo and race start. So come race morning we could look out our window as people began to make their way to the start and wait until the last minute before following them all.

The race began in typical efficient and organised German fashion. Frankfurt is a business-focussed city and for the first few miles we ran past some very tall, shiny office building. This played havoc with our GPS watches - but luckily we had our legs to rely on to tell us we were going at the right pace. After a few miles we headed out of the city. There were plenty of people out cheering and the field was a friendly mix of international runners that never got too crowded for us to keep to our pace.

As we headed back towards the city, Liz began to tire. It was time to remind her of the other very important reasons why she’d chosen this race: the disco and the beer. After 26 miles of running round the streets of Frankfurt you step onto a red carpet that guides you for the last meters of the race. This carpet leads you inside an indoor arena, flanked on each side by rows of seats and cheering people. It’s dark inside except for the strobes and flashing spotlights which catch the confetti falling from the ceiling. Electronic pop music pumps out over the sound system and for the last few moments of your race, you feel like you’ve won it.

We staggered over the finish line hand-in-hand, grabbed our medals and looked around to soak in the atmosphere before heading to the beer tent. This is Germany after all. It would be rude not to.

Read more about Laura’s marathons on her blog.

Keith took on the London Virgin Money Marathon 2014, which he also refers to as his "weight loss project that got seriously out of control”

Keith proudly holding up his marathon medal after completing the race

As an unashamed "sports nut" I loved watching this event on television. Every year I'd look slightly enviously at those ordinary folks in obvious pain crossing the finish line. "I'd love to have done that" (I thought) whilst also thinking "but I never will". So, aged 55, I became a runner. And I ventured to dream that maybe I just could run the London Marathon.

When you enter the ballot you are invited to tick the boxes of a number of charities you might like to support. One of these was children's cancer support charity CLIC Sargent. They advised that if I wanted to opt for a charity place it would be best to secure it early. They asked for a minimum pledge to raise £1800, plus a written proposal as to how you would do it! I did some maths, waxed lyrically, and before I knew it I was part of the 2014 team with a pledge to raise £2000.

And so began the most intense 10 months of my life. With a combination of donations and events I thought I could raise the £2000, but it still felt like a huge millstone around my neck. And I had to somehow get fit to run twenty-six and a bit miles. Furthermore, in one eureka moment I decided a blog would be a good idea. I also became part of the Real Buzz community, a source of endless support and invaluable advice. I upped the running effort, aiming towards a half marathon in October, started advertising desperately JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving pages and had nightmares trying to get my web-site up and running.

And so to race day. Up early - porridge in my room - out on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich - nice gentle walk to my start point in the park - several comfort stops, and lucky enough to bump into some of the real buzzers again. Off to my pen and now we're off and running. The early part of the run was a delight, passing through the streets where I grew up, the road where my grandparents lived for 60 years and my spiritual home, Charlton Athletic Football Club. Just before Greenwich – the first massive cheer of the day from family and friends. Then Cutty Sark, Deptford and now heading off towards Tower Bridge and the half way point, reached dead on 2 hours.

But after half way the heat is taking its toll. Canary Wharf – massive shouts of GO DAD – GO DAD from my two favourite ladies in all the world, in strict birth order Madeleine and Anneliese. It's getting really tough – walk – walk – I tell myself but I refused to listen. Out of docklands and off towards the city. Hit the embankment and the loudest GOOOOO DAAAAAAD of the day. I can see Big Ben – it's getting closer – Birdcage Walk – it's never ending – suddenly swing around and there is the finish – faster faster – milk this moment for all it's worth – arms in the air – you've done it – YOU'VE DONE IT.

I was delighted to complete the London Marathon in 4 hrs 17 mins exactly. It cost me £100 to register with CLIC Sargent, but that guaranteed me a place without having to ballot. I was so pleased to help raise over £6000 to assist with their continuing good work.

On this project I was overwhelmed with great and generous support from so many people. Running a marathon is no walk in the park – the marathon demands total respect, and if you're going to do it, pay your dues and do it properly. But it's amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it and if running a marathon is what you want to do then absolutely go for it.

And as for Keith's Marathon Dream? Well as I write this I’m sitting on Eurostar heading for Paris. Romance in the air? Not for me! No I'm off to try and nail that sub four hour finish. Thanks for reading.

Read about more of Keith’s marathon experiences on his blog.

Hopefully these stories have inspired you to fulfil your ambition of completing a marathon somewhere in the world. Tell us the locations you would love most to run a marathon in!