7:33am

Sun April 22, 2012
Sports

Can't Join The Club: London Marathon 'Ever-Presents'

Originally published on Sun April 22, 2012 11:43 am

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today marks the 32nd annual London Marathon. Summer Olympic hopeful, Wilson Kipsang, won the men's race, while fellow Kenyan Mary Keitany won the women's for a second consecutive year. Others, well, Vicki Barker met the event's most seasoned veterans: the so-called Ever-Presents, who've run in all 31 previous marathons. Time is reducing their numbers, she says - but not their enthusiasm.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN FALLING)

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Rain, a splashy, chilly, even by London standards heavy spring rain, falling in the final training days leading up to the marathon, forecast for the day itself. Steve Wehrle can tell you about rain.

STEVE WEHRLE: The years do get a bit muddled, but there was a year when it rained. It was raining before it started so we were wet before it started.

BARKER: Wehrle and his fellow ever-presents are the walking - or shall we say jogging - institutional memory of the London Marathon.

WEHRLE: That day I got wet and dried out four times, and by the time I got to the end of the race I was very, very cold and very, very fed up.

BARKER: New York native Roger Low remembers the very first London marathon in 1981, run before a sparse and bemused audience.

ROGER LOW: There were a lot of areas where there was nobody on the roadside, nobody quite knew what to do. But now everybody's cheering, making a lot of noise, giving food and fruit and stuff like that to people along the way. So, it's a great experience.

BARKER: The oldest Ever-Present is 78. The youngest are in their fifties. It's a bit of an overstatement to call them a club.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's his name, Lee?

LEE: Tony.

BARKER: Some of the Ever-Presents don't even show up for the annual photo. These are, after all, just random runners who happened to share the accidental good fortune of winning a place in that first, and following, marathons. It was 15 years before they won official recognition for their longevity. That year, they numbered 42. This year they were down to 17, say Roger Low and David Walker.

LOW: We like to say that this is a club that no one can join.

DAVID WALKER: We can only leave it - and we all will at some point.

BARKER: When these men first ran this course their bodies were well-oiled machines, and it was all about reaching their personal best. Nowadays, says Mike Peel, it's more about the journey than the destination.

MIKE PEEL: There's a big difference between racing and running. And these days we're just running or trotting round. I know that we won't be last in the race, but we're disappointed that we can't run like we used to run.

BARKER: In a sense, then, the Ever-Presents have been acting out a slow-motion confrontation with their own mortality, determined to remain moving targets right up to that finish line. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.