Chasing the World Marathon Majors: Blair George shares his London Marathon story

The third Abbott Marathon Major of the calendar year — the London Marathon kicks off Sunday with an estimated 50,000 runners expected on the start line.

The London Marathon is a particularly tricky one for North American runners to get into; there is no way to qualify by time if you aren’t a resident of the United Kingdom, which means Canadian runners need to run with a charity bib or gain entry via a very competitive lottery. A record 578,374 people entered the 2024 London Marathon lottery, including 121,269 non-UK residents.

This year, the Brainsport Times is speaking to Saskatoonians who’ve completed the World Marathon Majors about their experiences getting into and running these coveted races (if you want to share your story reach out!). Today, 39-year-old Blair George shares his story of running the 2023 London Marathon.

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and your relationship with running.

A: I’m a regular guy. I don’t do anything special; I work here in Saskatoon at a grocery store and I love to run to keep in shape.

I started running when I was really young, probably when I was seven or eight. I’ve always been a runner. I’ve never really been good at team sports and running is something you can do solo. I think running is good for all around mental health. It gets me out and I can relax. I enjoy doing long runs because it clears up my brain and helps me focus.

I started running marathons almost 20 years ago in 2004. I was watching CTV News at Noon and there was an interview with someone from the Canadian Diabetes Association in Regina and she was talking about joining the Canadian Diabetes Association and raising money and running a marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. So I joined and I raised money and I ran my first full marathon. And I never stopped. How many marathons have I done now? I don’t know. Probably 16, maybe 17.

I used to run with Jason Warick’s running group (which stopped meeting in 2022). It was always good to be part of that community and I learned so much. I said I’m not very good at team sports, but this was a team you could be a part of. Everyone was so helpful and thankful and cheered you on. Today I am in Harvey Weber’s running group (Running Wild Athletics Club).

Q: Why did you want to run the London Marathon?

A: I always wanted to do the six majors and London is one of the six majors. I’ve done three of them now: Chicago, London and Tokyo. London is just a very lovely city, it’s nice to be in any time of the year. The race is in April, in springtime, which is quite nice.

Q: How did you get in?

A: For the London Marathon, there is a ballot draw that anyone can enter online. After the London Marathon, they open up the ballot for next year’s race and there’s a short time period to enter your name. They just draw names and you hope you get selected. I had been entering into the London draw probably for 15 years before I actually got in. Getting the email (that I’d got in), oh man, it was so exciting. I didn’t actually believe it. I had to read my email three or four times before I actually believed I got in. After that, you kind of get clued in: Now you have to do your training and find a place to stay and plan your itinerary.

Q: How logistically easy or challenging was it to organize travel and accommodations?

A: It’s easy enough to travel to London. I flew from Saskatoon to Toronto and from Toronto went straight into Heathrow. Coming home, it was Heathrow to Vancouver and then Vancouver to Saskatoon. I must have spent 10 or 12 days in London traveling around. As for accommodation, I think it would be difficult for most people, but my oldest brother lives in London so I got to stay with him so that made it a lot easier for me.

Q: Tell me about the race.

A: It rained for half of my race. Not pouring rain, but more of like a steady drizzle. That ended around the 22 or 23 kilometer mark. And after that it was gray, cloudy weather, but not cold. The cold weather was so nice to run in.

The vibe was amazing. There were so many runners running. They had the most amount of runners that year; it was more than 58,000 runners. You have no idea how many people were running this race on tiny little roads in London. Runners are actually jockeying for position and their elbows are literally touching each other’s elbows. It’s hard to keep your stride when it’s so crowded and everyone is bumping into each other.

There were hundreds of thousands of people lined across along the entire course watching the race. Even if you were running the race by yourself and no one was in front of you or behind you or beside you which would actually never have happened because there were too many people there would still be thousands of people all over the sidewalks watching the race. It was amazing. I’ve never seen that many people cheering on a marathon.

It was well organized and the volunteers were so nice and polite and helpful. The Marathon Expo was very interesting and had lots of information.

Q: How did the race compare to the 16-or-so other marathons you have done?

A: I enjoy seeing new places and running around in those places. So I had a good time. I would say this was an exciting one to do because my mom and dad got to watch and I was there with my oldest brother and it was my second major (I’d previously run Chicago). This race was more crowded than my other marathons.

And I followed the training. The London Marathon gives you information on how to do proper training. So I followed the plan on their website, they had a beginner, intermediate and more advanced guide. I did the more advanced guide and I didn’t have any problems with that. I just stuck with it. And I did it in the cold winter months from November 2022 into January and February of 2023. There was a lot of cold miserable days, but I followed the plan every day. That really helped me run in the rain on race day.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who gets into London?

A: Be consistent with training and don’t worry about being in London. That can be a bit overwhelming, especially if someone has to figure out accommodation, etc., because England, in general, is expensive. During the race, focus on the race. And then once it’s over, enjoy being in England and check out all the amazing things to do and see.

Q: Anything else?

A: Just go and do it. Sign up and hopefully you’ll get in. Everyone should enjoy their time here and London is a fun thing to do.

This interview has been edited and condensed.