LONDON -- Not all heroes wear capes or have the new British men's marathon record next to his name.
The image of Sir Mo Farah lying on the floor in sheer exhaustion will adorn the back and front pages of Monday's newspapers, with his third-place finish in a time of 2:06.21 -- booting Steve Jones' 33-year best of 2:07.13 into history.
Farah reflected afterward on the "ridiculous pace," as he put it, set by Eliud Kipchoge, Olympic champion and arguably the greatest marathon runner of all time. The Kenyan stormed home in 2:04.17 to win his third London Marathon on the bounce. Alongside Kipchoge in the history books are Vivian Cheruiyot, who took gold in the women's, and Sir David Weir, who won his eighth London marathon men's wheelchair title.
But this was a day when you could do little but marvel at the spirit of your everyday human. There were an estimated 40,000 people running the marathon, which turned out to be London's hottest ever at 24.1 degrees Celsius (75.3 degrees Fahrenheit). They came dressed as toilets, as Harry Potter, as Paddington Bear, in full suits of armour, confined in straitjackets or maybe with X-Wings on their backs. Or they could be 18 of the firefighters who tackled the Grenfell Tower blaze who ran fully kitted out in operational attire, complete with oxygen tank. Then there was the man carrying a washing machine on his back.
The unrelenting inspirational quality of the human was the lifeblood of this event, married neatly with perfectly timed humour amid gasps for lung-busting breath. Purple-haired Laura was asked how she felt around the 38-kilometer mark. She paused and answered, succinctly: "F---ed."
Of course the heroes were in capes too. Superman was a favourite, but also those working for St. John Ambulance and the hundreds of marshals the course over contributed famously to the effort. As exhaustion and dehydration took its toll, the medical staff were close to the barriers, guiding or carrying those who just had no reserves left. To a human being, they were brilliantly inspirational.
But then there was Farah. It's a strange phenomenon combining the amateur and the professional. A field of 40,000 would later say, perhaps, they'd "raced" Farah, the man crowned Sports Personality of the Year in December. The start inevitably saw one of the club runners sprint out in front, turning to wave the elite athletes on. Then the field split, and Kipchoge was the man setting the pace.
Today was a huge improvement for Farah from his last effort in 2014 where he finished a disappointing eighth. Preparation for this incarnation came with tunnel-vision focus on the marathon, with the track side of his career now finished, which saw him win four long-distance Olympic gold medals.
Leading up to London, he spent three months in Ethiopia training at altitude (10,000 feet). He spoke of how he was chased by wild dogs and had to navigate himself through cattle on occasion, all with that typical beaming Farah smile. It was all geared toward Farah being in a far better place four years on.
The 35-year-old showed huge promise, but he was still left lamenting confusion over the drinks stations. "The staff were helpful at the end, but at the beginning, they were trying to take a picture rather than giving me the drink," Farah said. "I was saying to the people on motorbikes to tell the staff to be a bit helpful. I wasn't wasting energy; I just needed a drink. I had to get it right."
Farah is used to being in the spotlight. In his last track race on UK soil in the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the Olympic Stadium, the crowd had a wave effect of adulation as he ran past them. He causes people to leap and shout almost involuntarily, with heart overtaking and dictating the body's response. He would finish with a silver medal in the 5000 metre, but still found himself at the centre of British sporting pride.
The effect was similar on this baking hot Sunday. As he ran past many well-known sights of this wonderful city, the crowd responded in turn, a ripple of cheering and applause reverberating around London like dominoes. And even he -- moments after he rose off the boiling hot Mall -- allowed himself a moment to slip into marathon humour. "The crowd really got behind me," he said. "It was an amazing atmosphere. I really enjoyed it -- even though over the last 10 kilometres I was b-----ed."
Humour was the constant theme of this masochistic way to spend a Sunday, and a hero named Andrew, painted in purple, captured it perfectly during an exchange with a man in the crowd who had shouted some encouragement.
"Andrew! I love the skirt!" shouted one watcher-on.
"It's a f---ing tutu!" He responded, smiling his way through the 38 kilometre mark. Andrew was just one memory, from one man, amid a crowd of inspirational heroes.