London:Some of the elite London Marathon competitors faced an endurance test just reaching the British capital for Sunday's race, with travel plans disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud over Europe that forced organizers to spend around 150,000 pounds ($230,000) on private planes.
Athletes undertook grueling road and train trips as the volcano on Iceland shut down airspace over Britain and large parts of continental Europa before planes were allowed to take to the air again late Tuesday.
Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru was finally due in London late Thursday after a two-day journey from Nairobi, Kenya that went via Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt and Spain using two different chartered aircraft _ accounting for the bulk of the organizers' bill.
"It has been about making sure we maintain the value and quality of the event rather than bean counting," race director David Bedford said Thursday. "The majority of the costs we have taken was about us not wanting to take a chance we would not be able to get people back here."
Wanjiru, who traveled with other African runners and picked up more stranded hopefuls in Madrid, is a favorite to defend his title following the withdrawal of three-time London winner Martin Lel, who pulled out for the second straight year _ this time with an injury to his right leg.
In was a comparatively smoother journey for Irina Mikitenko, who is chasing a third straight victory in London. The 37-year-old German traveled by train to Brussels before taking the Eurostar under the English Channel.
But for last year's runner-up Mara Yamauchi of Britain, getting to London from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she had been training at altitude, involved a sapping six-day journey.
It started last Thursday _ the first of six days when most of Europe's flight paths were closed by ash spewing from a volcano in Iceland. She traveled with her husband Shigetoshi to Denver, only to find that flights to Europe had been canceled, and then went to New Jersey to try to get a flight to Shannon airport in Ireland, before eventually jetting into Lisbon.
From Portugal they rented a taxi for a six-hour drive to Madrid, where they discovered there were was no space available on ferries from Spain to Portsmouth. Instead, they rented a car and drove for two days to Paris before taking a taxi to Le Touquet, where London organizers finally helped out by spending 1,400 pounds on a propeller plane.
"It was very tough at points _ there were times I thought we would not make it to London by Sunday," Yamauchi said Thursday at a hotel next to Tower Bridge. "Then there were also times I thought I would be the only person to make it to London and would win by 10 minutes. Once we arrived in Europe, getting to one point from the next was pretty hard work, because everything was full.
"I am just relieved to be here. Physically it was pretty exhausting, we did not have much time to sleep, or eat meals properly and I did hardly any training, but on the positive side I was not really worrying about the race at all."
Now the plan is to get her muscles moving again _ and forget the last week.
"Being at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris was the low point, when we were trying to get information, a room in a hotel, and nobody could help us," she said. "I did lose grip on my senses _ especially having to pay a euro to use the toilet after queuing up for half-an-hour."
The ash woes came after a cold winter hampered European runners' preparations
"The snow this winter made it difficult at times," she said. "That was something which affected a lot of runners in Europe. We had to improvise quite a lot but my performances in training haven't been the worse for it."