This year’s London Marathon is set to be the biggest marathon staged, with organisers increasingly hopeful that a full national rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine will enable 100,000 runners to take part in the race on 3 October.
A record 50,000 people will be given the opportunity to run the 26.2 mile course from Blackheath to the Mall in central London – up more than 7,000 on the previous number of finishers – with another 50,000 being offered the chance to run or walk the race virtually across the globe during a 24-hour window.
That figure would smash the record for the most participants, held by the 2018 New York marathon, at 53,121 (though New York would retain the record for participants on the start line), but the London event’s director, Hugh Brasher, said his main focus for this year’s renewal was to provide a lifeline for thousands of struggling charities, make the race even more inclusive and offer “light and hope in the darkness of the pandemic”.
“It’s been a year of really terrible things happening, so it can be difficult for people to imagine the race going ahead as normal at a time where the news is so terrible about deaths, transmission rates and mutations,” said Brasher. “But we have real optimism, with four million people in the UK vaccinated already and the government saying that the whole of the population should be vaccinated by September.
“Doubling the number of people doing the London marathon will be a really important lifeline to charities in this incredibly difficult time for them. While allowing people to take part virtually also opens it up to those runners or walkers who might feel daunted by being in crowds, who need shielding, or simply want to break the challenge up into smaller bits throughout the day. We’ve always prided ourselves on our inclusivity. But this almost in a single stroke, magnifies it unbelievably.”
On Thursday, the London Marathon was awarded al Guinness World Records title for the most users to run a remote marathon in 24 hours after it staged a virtual mass participation race for the first time last October, with 37,996 runners using a special app that tracked their time and distance.
1981: The first London Marathon is staged. It attracts a small field with
just 6,255 finishers. Fewer than 300 are women
1986: First mini-marathon over the last 2.6 miles of the course with children from the 33 London boroughs taking part
1987: The race continues to rapidly expand, with more than 20,000 starters for the first time
1998: London marathon has 30,000 starters for the first time
2016: The millionth finisher crosses line. Organisers name her as Shannon Foudy from Luton who ran to raise funds for the hospital that saved her newborn daughter's life
2018: For the first time there are more female than male first-time
marathon runners in the list of the entrants
2019: Money raised for charity surpasses £1bn in total, after a record 42,000 people start the race
2020: Because of the pandemic an elite-only race is staged behind closed doors, with more than 37,000 finishers completing the first virtual event
When organisers examined the data they discovered that nearly 8,000 entrants finished in more than eight hours – far slower than a traditional marathon – with three people taking the maximum 23 hours and 59 minutes permitted. They hope by staging the virtual race again, and allowing competitors to tackle a marathon over a full day, it can inspire people to start exercising again to take on the challenge of going 26.2 miles.
“The world record-breaking success of the virtual event in 2020 and the incredible stories from participants across the globe showed how the world’s greatest marathon brought light and hope in the darkness of the pandemic,” said Brasher. “We want to offer that again and we have also accelerated the plans we have been working on for some years to increase the number of finishers on the streets of London to 50,000.
“It [26.2 miles] is a heck of a long way. But we know that if people want better physical health and better mental health, exercise does that. So the more we can inspire someone on that journey to start training, to start walking, to start running, the better. It’s just so good for the brain and your endorphins. And we absolutely believe this changes the London Marathon and amplifies its force for good in such an incredible way.”
Everyone who entered the ballot for this year’s race will find out on 8 February if they have been successful. Unsuccessful applicants will then have a one-week window to enter the virtual event, before it becomes open to everyone.
All participants will be sent running numbers and be given a finishers medal and T-shirt if they finish – regardless of where they are in the world.