The Houston Marathon Committee’s Erin McGowan, Director, Legal Affairs & Participant Services, recently traveled to London, England to work the 2013 Virgin London Marathon. There for just over a week, Erin was on the elite meet and greet team that spent most of it’s time at London Heathrow Airport.

There were some long days in store for Erin in the week leading up to the race. When the athletes started arriving on Monday, April 15, Erin and crew would have to get up between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. to meet the first overnight flights arriving from Kenya and Ethiopia at 6:00 a.m. They would meet the athletes and agents as soon as they came through customs and travel with them on the Heathrow Express before handing them off to the drivers who would take them on to the race hotel. The crew would then head back to the airport for next group of arriving athletes and agents. Depending on the day, the crew were generally home by 8:00 p.m., but one night they were out until midnight.

On race day, the meet and greet crew’s primary goal was to be elite athlete spotters. The way London Marathon course is set up, there’s a turn about 400m from finish and the race organizers need to know who is coming for the announcers and to determine what lane they would be in. London utilizes a multi-lane finish line because, in addition to the men’s and women’s races, London also played host to the IPC Marathon World Cup. Along with the annual wheelchair race featuring T51-T54 athletes, this event also featured IPC Athletics classes T42-46 (leg and arm amputees) and T11-T13 (visually impaired) for both men and women. It made for some serious difficulty in keeping track of everyone. At one point, there were eight men’s wheelers coming in together and, even with their binoculars, it was hard to figure out who was who.

When asked what was her favorite moment was from the trip, Erin was stumped. There were so many. Then she remembered meeting the athletes from one specific flight – Geoffrey Mutai, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, Tsegaye Kebede and Feyisa Lilesa – five of the worlds greatest marathoners. On arriving back to the hotel later that night, Erin told one of the organizers they were lucky the athletes made it to London because she wanted to put them on a plane to Houston!

One of the best parts about working the London Marathon for Erin is also spending time and being able to meet with athletes, agents, race directors and other members of the running industry. Everyone shares information and gets to ask everyone else questions. It’s a great experience to learn about everyone’s different backgrounds and how we can learn from each other and share our experiences. And then bring all of this info back to Houston and use it to plan for the future.