‘Extraordinary’ day ahead as 40,000 runners return to London Marathon city route

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The London Marathon will welcome back more than 40,000 runners to its traditional route on Sunday after last year’s mass event was scrapped due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

It is 889 days since the colourful charity spectacular last followed the 26.2 mile route from Greenwich to The Mall.

It was replaced in 2020 by a virtual run where participants chose their own route and a further 40,000 participants will earn their medal by taking part in the virtual event this year.

It is the first time the two events will take place simultaneously and the first time that runners have tackled the marathon’s traditional route in October rather than during spring.

The date is not the only change. There is no bag drop at the start and runners were instead asked to leave any belongings they will need at the finish line at the ExCel centre when they collected their number.

There will be no volunteers hanging medals around the necks of finishers, who will instead find their medal in their bag.

Large groups will not wait at the start line together and instead participants will set off in more than 40 waves across a 90-minute period with no official pacers this year.

Participants are being encouraged to wear a bottle belt so they can carry a drink to further reduce touchpoints on the day, and have been asked to invite just one supporter to reduce crowds along the route.

Those running in central London will have to be able to show a negative lateral flow test for Covid-19.

Hugh Brasher
London Marathon event director Hugh Brasher (PA)

In a message to participants, event director Hugh Brasher, whose father Chris Brasher co-founded the London Marathon in 1981, said the event would show “the true spirit of the London Marathon at its very best”, forged by shared experience and togetherness.

“Togetherness is what we have missed so much over these past 18 months. Togetherness in mind, in body and in spirit,” he wrote.

“Back in 1981, one of the founding aims of the London Marathon was ‘to have fun and provide some happiness and a sense of achievement in a troubled world’.

“Forty years on, those words have never been more appropriate.”

Mr Brasher quoted the event’s campaign slogan as he added: “It will be an extraordinary day as We Run Together.”

London Marathon participants have raised more than £1 billion for good causes during the past 40 years and Mr Brasher said it “will be one of the greatest days of the year for charity fundraising in times that have been incredibly difficult”.

Eight of the Ever Presents, who have run every London Marathon, will run again this year. Seven will run in London while Ken Jones, 88, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, will take part closer to home.

Chris Finill, 62, from Cranleigh, Surrey, told the PA news agency the opportunity to run the traditional course again this year was “wonderful”.

Chris Finill
Chris Finill, from Surrey, has competed in every London Marathon since the event started in 1981 (PA)

“Some of the logistics this year, for example the kit drop-off and collection, are more complex than normal, but hopefully such Covid-related measures will be unnecessary by next year’s race, scheduled for October 2, 2022,” he added.

Changes have also been made to improve the experience for slower participants, following criticism in 2019.

Fifty Tailwalkers will walk the entire route at eight-hour pace, and a music bus with DJ will drive behind them after the third mile.

Eight Support Squad members will be available from mile 16 onwards to help anyone who is struggling, and they will remain in place until the Tailwalkers have passed.

The weather is set to improve following wet and windy conditions in London on Saturday.

Sunday is expected to be largely dry with temperatures rising from around 10/11C to a peak of 16/17C in the afternoon, Met Office operational meteorologist Jonathan Vautrey said.

“Winds will strengthen a touch through the day as well, so there will be more of a gentle to moderate breeze by the afternoon,” he added.

Olympics BMX silver medallist Kye Whyte will start runners in the mass race and famous faces taking part include former England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock and theatre star Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is currently starring in the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Cinderella, will be among those running the London Marathon for the first time.

London Marathon 2021
Lucy Harvey will be the youngest runner in the London Marathon, taking part the day after her 18th birthday (Family handout/PA)

Lucy Harvey, from Poole, Dorset, who turned 18 on Saturday, will be the youngest runner, while Koichi Kitabatake, 87, from Japan, is due to be the oldest.

There will be about 1,500 runners raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, which is the Virgin Money London Marathon’s official charity in 2021.

You, Me & the Big C podcaster, Steve Bland, 41, is running as part of Team Macmillan, following the support his family received from the charity when his wife, journalist and presenter Rachael Bland, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The year after Rachael died, I took on the Virgin Money London Marathon in her memory and it was one of the most incredible, inspiring and emotional experiences I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

“I’m so excited to be back with Team Macmillan at the iconic start line about to take on the challenge once again.”

William Goodge, 27, from Ampthill, Bedfordshire, is also running with Team Macmillan at the end of a 30-day challenge to complete 48 marathons across all 48 English counties.

The rugby player-turned model took up running to help him process his grief after his mother Amanda Jayne Goodge, 53, died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2018.

“To finish the challenge alongside other Team Macmillan runners at the London Marathon is truly special,” he said.

“Good luck to everyone else out there taking part today – it feels brilliant to share the streets of London with you.”

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