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London Marathon: Pain, Joy, Fundraising

Friday, 11 Apr 2008 | 9:05 AM ET

Question: what is harder? Training for four months in the coldest, wettest and most downright most miserable part of the British winter and then turning up in mid-April to run over 26 miles OR raising money for your chosen charity and actually collecting the booty at the end of it all?

Kyrsten Skulborstad

Answer: it's a near run thing but the latter wins the day. People are very generous, but actually catching them with £50 to £100 cash on collection day is a tough assignment.

This is just one of the conundrums faced by your budding "fun runner." "Fun" couldn’t actually be further from the truth because the whole process of training for, and running, the London Marathon (or any marathon for that matter), is gruelling in the extreme.

I've crawled my way over the London course four times now and I can honestly say it has been one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life (yes, I know I’m supposed to say that my son's birth was better). And yet, being part of an occasion that annually wins the Guinness record for biggest single fund-raising event is pretty hard to beat.

Global charities have now raised more than $700 million in the 27 years that the London race has been going. And this year another $90 million plus is expected to go to good causes.

A Mile in Their Shoes
The London Marathon happens Sunday. CNBC's Steve Sedgwick investigates how big businesses and charities will benefit from this event.

I'm taking a break from running this year but popped down to the Marathon Expo in Docklands, East London to check out the runners and riders for this year's event. What struck me was how big business had taken this event to the heart.

Companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (whose Lucozade brand was everywhere), TNT (who provides the trucks that transport runners' kits from the start of the race to the finish) and Adidas (official kit sponsor) see it as an important part of their marketing.

I mean, if it wasn't such a good advertising opportunity why else would Vittel provide 700,000 bottles of water for thirsty runners on the day? Runners who take one gulp and then throw the bottle away, which creates a minefield at drinks stops on the day, I can assure you.

As I say, I'm not running this year but will miss the huge crowds as the route snakes its way round the UK capital. The second half of the route goes through the two titanic financial centers, Canary Wharf and the Square Mile, and what is striking is that two places that are so wrapped up with the harsh business of money making and capitalism can show such heart and generosity of spirit (for at least one day a year).

I won't miss the cobbles at Tower Hill, the painkillers tied to my wrist (to aid my progress over the latter stages), the pepper-laden sweets handed out by mischievous children en route to unsuspecting runners needing a quick sugar rush. Nor will I regret the problems thrown up by drinking several liters of water en route but having nowhere to dispose of it (you get my gist).

Kyrsten Skulborstad

And I certainly won’t miss turning right at the twelve and half mile mark just after Tower Bridge and having to watch the elite runners going the other way having already run ten miles further than I and the rest of the ‘fun’ runners (again I use the word fun sarcastically).

But I’ll miss the surge of emotions created by the various stages of the build-up on the day itself, the huge sense of relief after every mile and, of course, the final triumphant turn into Birdcage Walk and the finish on the Mall. Getting your medal at the end of a momentous day is truly an emotional moment, and so, but in a very different way, is trying to walk down stairs for the next few days. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.