Finally, the day you’ve been training for - in some cases, for as long as 18 months - has arrived.
The first London Marathon in more than two years returns on Sunday - the last one took place in April 2019 - and the capital is set for record-breaking numbers. More than 45,000 runners are limbering up to take to the course around London, with another 50,000 joining virtually, making it the largest marathon ever staged.
“It will be a moment of joy, of true emotion,” race director Hugh Brasher told BBC Breakfast in the build-up to the race this week, saying he thinks it could easily be “the most memorable London Marathon ever”.
“It is more than just a marathon,” he continued. “This is about bringing people together and that is what we have missed so much in the last 18 months.”
The race will be a landmark moment for other reasons, too. With Covid still spreading, all runners must show a negative lateral flow test ahead of the race and only one spectator per participant is being encouraged to minimise crowds.
Organisers are also hoping to put greater focus on the event’s environmental impact. Kitbags made from sugar cane, electric race vehicles, and making mile markers for future events out of waste from the course are just some of the measures being introduced for this year’s race.
When is it?
This year’s race takes place on Sunday (October 3), with the wheelchairs setting off at 8.50am, followed by the elite women, elite men and the mass start.
If you’re supporting a runner in the main race, they’ll be crossing the start line at an allocated timeslot anytime from 9.30am. Use the official 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon app to track them: this year you can follow the progress of an unlimited number of friends and family out on the course (the app is powered by TCS and will give you updates every 5km and predict your runner’s time at the next checkpoint), plus there’s an interactive course map with helpful spectator information. Download it on iOS and Android here.
Where to watch
Though the race starts at Blackheath, it’s not advised to accompany participants to the start as the assembly areas are for runners only. There’ll be supporters all along the route, so pick your spots carefully, and don’t plan to move much as getting around will be slow. To see runners between miles 14 and 21, take the DLR or the Jubilee Line out east towards Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. Avoid Greenwich town centre as this is expected to be very busy.
Tower Hill is common viewing spot and easy to get to: runners come past there twice so you’ll get to see them at miles 13 and 22.5 without having to get back on the Tube.
Run Dem Crew’s famous cheer station will be taking pride of place at mile 21 again, and Birdcage Walk is also popular as you’ll get to cheer runners on the home straight before seeing them in the finish area afterwards. The closest stations to the finish area are St James’ Park and Victoria, but these will be busy. Charing Cross and Embankment stations are a little further away (about a 20-minute walk) but they’ll be less crowded and you won’t have to use the crossing points.
How to get to the start point
All runners are entitled to free travel to the start on Southeastern trains from Charing Cross, Waterloo East, Cannon Street and Victoria. Give yourself plenty of time and make sure you keep your race number handy - flash it to staff on the Underground, Overground, bus network, TfL Rail, DLR or relevant Southeastern trains and staff will let you travel to the start line without paying a penny.
There’s a short walk at the other end. The start areas are all a 10 to 15 minute walk from the nearest station, whether it’s Blackheath, Maze Hill or Greenwich. If you arrive at the station suggested in your registration email, signs will direct you to your start.
How to watch on TV
If you’re watching on TV, there’ll be live coverage on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and various apps. The Red Button TV service gives expert commentary on the elite race and then offers finish line coverage of all runners as they complete the course, accompanied by a graphics ticker containing messages sent in by friends and loved ones.
Make the most of it: according to reports this week, the BBC could lose its 40-year London Marathon TV rights, after organisers are said to be considering other options. “This is one of the crown jewels of British sport,” race director Brasher said following the news. “That’s the FA Cup, there’s the Grand National, the Boat Race, Wimbledon tennis, and the London Marathon. All the other events have been around for over 150 years but the London Marathon is 40 years.
“It’s incredible what we’ve become in that time, and we do not take that in any way lightly. It is fair to say we are talking to other terrestrial broadcasters. It is likely an announcement will be made this year.”
Who is running?
Around 45,000 brave runners are expected to start this year’s race, from the fourth-fastest British female marathoner of all-time Charlie Purdue and last year’s winner Shura Kitata to pro joggers and people in rhino costumes. Roughly 50,000 more will be running virtually at home and thousands will be spectating.
Alongside the many thousands of Londoners running, a number of celebrities will also be attempting the 26.2 mile course, including Virgin Radio DJ Chris Evans, TV personality Mark Wright, former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss, double Olympic gold medal rower James Cracknell and former Olympian Liz McColgan, who won the London Marathon in 1996 before coming second in the 1997 and 1998 events.
Steve Bland, husband of the late BBC presenter Rachael Bland, will be running for official charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support as part of Team Macmillan with his new partner Amy, following Rachel’s death from breast cancer in 2018.
Keep your eyes peeled for Paul Goldstein, who’ll be running in a 14ft tiger suit, and six male runners dressed as a Colin the Caterpillar Cake, attempting to set a Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a six-person costume. You can sponsor them here.
All 12 of my legs are shaking with excitement! Bring it on @GWR @LondonMarathon @marksandspencer #GuinnessWorldRecordAttempt #LondonMarathon @BBCSport @BBCNews @sophieraworth @Raworthontherun @DigbyWalker @AmbitiousAutism https://t.co/Q2nMa3uzQQ
— Colin the Caterpillar Cake (@Col_Caterpillar) September 17, 2021
What to wear
Comfort is key when running such a long distance: make sure you don’t wear clothing you haven’t tried out in advance. Shoes are priority number one and this year’s offerings are high-tech. Asics’ new wonder shoe, the Metaspeed Edge, is designed to help cadence-type runners go faster by extending their stride length while allowing them to change cadence more easily. Thanks to an energetic midsole foam and a propulsive carbon plate, it’ll help you elongate your stride, conserve more energy and control your pace.
If you’re looking for speed, Saucony launched its fastest carbon-plated shoe, the Endorphin Pro+, this week, with a reengineered ultra-light upper and a limited production run, while race partner New Balance’s official London Marathon kit collection includes a range of electric orange London Edition shoes, from the explosive FuelCell Rebel v2 to a more luxurious Fresh Foam 1080v11 pair. Pair them with Stance’s Run Light Tab Socks for a cushioned feel - each pair features Infiknit technology that’ll withstand long runs - and invest in a pair of Nurvv Run insoles if you fancy getting high-tech. Each comes with 32 sensors to give you live real-time coaching via an app as you pound the pavements.
Elsewhere in New Balance’s collection you’ll find running shorts printed with the race route or marathon logo, LDN tank tops and a range of tees and jackets featuring the union jack, RUN LDN logo and a print of Tower Bridge.
Many runners will be wearing their charity vests on the day – remember to pin your race number to your top before leaving in the morning. If you’ve got a ballot place or can’t find a vest that doesn’t rub, let Iffley Road be your race day hero. The luxury British men’s running brand has a new collection featuring a range of sweat-wicking pieces that are perfect for taking on the 26.2 - check out the Durham Lightweight T-Shirt, the brand’s lightest and most technical tee yet, made from an open mesh Ice-Cafe technology that cools down the skin’s temperature but binding and dissipating warmth.
For women, a good sports bra is essential: Lucas Hugh’s Axis bra fits like a second skin for high-impact running, Sweaty Betty’s Circuit Zip Up Sports Bra is made for lots of sweating and Pour Moi has a whole range of shock-absorbing bras to match its colourful leggings collection - pair them up or mix and match. If you need a specific fitting, Sports Direct is offering free gait analysis and sports bra services for all London Marathon runners in store.
Sunday is currently set to be a mild 16 degrees - there’s a 13 per cent chance of rain so you should stay dry - so it’ll be warm enough for shorts. Sweaty Betty’s On Your Marks shorts feature the brand’s famous sweat-wicking Power fabric and two zip pockets while 2XU has a range of compression shorts for protecting your muscles. It has leggings, too, if you’re looking for something longer - or pick Pocket Sport’s Morisot leggings, the brand’s most premium style to date, featuring race-ready stripes and an internal pocket for your energy gels.
Take a Buff to the start line if you’re prone to getting a hot head - the brand’s technical headbands and caps pack up small and feature UV protection - and let Aftershokz new OpenMoves be your headphones on the day. The bone-conduction headphones are the only headphones approved by England Athletics to be worn during races. They transmit sound through your cheekbones using tiny vibrations, so your ear canal is left open to hear all the sounds of the race.
If you want something smaller, Beats’ Studio Buds come with a transparency mode for hearing the crowds and bands along the route, and JBL’s Reflect Flow PRO headphones have just won a 2021 Red Dot Product Design Award for their secure fit, sweat-resistant abilities and Smart Ambient mode that lets you tune into the sounds around you. Even better, they come with six microphones for perfect voice clarity so they’ll hear your Google or Alexa demands above the noise of the race.