Both watching and running the London Marathon are incredible experiences, but spectators get the not inconsiderable bonus of not having to cover 42.2km on foot. The support runners receive is superb all around the marathon course, so a good time is guaranteed anywhere along the route, but there are several spots that are better than others, depending on what your goal is. Some will want to see their runner and, just as importantly, be seen by their runner; some will just want a big crowd to revel in the party atmosphere while others will want exactly the opposite – a quiet place to watch the race go by. Well, quieter – strictly speaking nowhere on the route can be called quiet.
If you want a huge crowd and a red-hot atmosphere then there are three obvious choices: the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and The Mall. If you’re after a twofer – and who isn’t – the Cutty Sark is just after the seven-mile marker so spectators have the option to leave for The Mall after spotting their runner to cheer them on during the final stretch. That said, if you’re not setting up camp very early at any of these spots, you will struggle to see much of anything, and the sheer numbers of people that amass there can be off-putting for many.
Another popular place where you’ll have a better chance of seeing the race is the 1.5-mile stretch between Tower Bridge and Limehouse. Runners go both ways down this section – heading east towards Canary Wharf after crossing Tower Bridge at mile 13, then heading west for the finish after a loop around the Isle of Dogs – so you get two chances to wave and cheer.
Speaking of the Isle of Dogs, this section of the race has long had a reputation for being a little quieter, especially around Mudchute. However, that reputation seems to have resulted in more people heading there, so it’s not too different from anywhere else on the course.
Generally the quietest places on the route are south of the river, with the exceptions of near the start at Greenwich Park and the Cutty Sark. If you head to Woolwich you’ll have a good chance of standing roadside to see runners between miles two and four, and you’ll then also have plenty of time to get to another spot on the course to see them again.
Wherever you plan on watching the race, there are a few golden rules. The first is to get there early – London’s transport will be extremely busy so journeys will take longer and if you’re late you might end up with a wall of people between you and the road.
The second rule is to know how fast the runner you’re supporting is. You can get an estimate from them and use that to get in position at the right time, but it’s a good idea to download the London Marathon app and track them live so you know when they’re about to pass you, just in case they fly out of the blocks or hit the wall earlier than expected.
Finally, the smartest spectators in 2018 will be course-side very early to see the elite runners come through, because this year’s London Marathon has an exceptional field. In the men’s race, the stellar trio of Mo Farah, Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele are all running alongside 2017 winner Daniel Wanjiru. And in the women’s race Mary Keitany is not just trying to defend her 2017 win, she’s attempting to break the world record of 2hr 15min 25sec, set by Paula Radcliffe in London in 2003. Keitany will be challenged by Tirunesh Dibaba and Rose Chelimo, who won the marathon World Championships in London last year.
If you don’t want to rely on the live tracker in the app, head to the London Marathon website for a pacing guide that will give the rough time you can expect the elites and amateur runners at a range of paces to pass each mile marker on the course.